The Process of Submerged Experience, 2021 Venice Biennale Exhibit

The Process of Submerged Experience, 2021 Venice Biennale Exhibit

Through our analytical processes of design, NANO’s intention was to transform the provided space by creating a heterogeneous experience that heightens the patron’s perception; empha­sizing the liminal moment between spaces, the relationship of change through time resulting in the experience of existence.

Within the context of site, both micro and macro, the analysis of place will reveal relationships typically unseen creating an experience not experienced.

NANO’s installation challenged patrons to pause and deliberate on how the confluence of space is experienced. 

What happens when we cross over a threshold?

What makes some spaces more comfortable than others?

How does space evoke an atmosphere or feeling?
How does materiality transform space?

Can architecture affect our perception of time?

How can space be sustainable through time?

These questions guided us as we continued to develop and refine our design, which, like all our work, explored answers at every scale – from the detail of a single joint, through the granular lens of New Orleans, to the connection with all of Venice.


SUBMERGED EXPERIENCE is broken down into three primary components:

  1. A ceiling condition which overlays the topographies of New Orleans and Venice, and represents the relationship in 3-D space
  2. A prescribed sequence spatializing the transitional characteristics of space and existence
  3. A visual experience displaying the evolution of culture and tradition of the Mardi Gras Indians

In creating the path through our exhibit, we first began by outlining the physical parameters of our exhibit space. We filmed + mapped out each of our team member’s instinctive, non-directed path through the empty space. Our mappings illustrated various paths and speeds but revealed common moments of interest, which assisted us in informing a portion of the physical construction + guided our approach to the visitor’s experience.

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

Ernest N. Morial Convention Center

Use: Municipal / Assembly
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 580,000 SF
Category: Architecture, Commercial, In-Process, Interiors, Municipal

NANO was hired by the New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority as the Architect of Record for the Stage 1 Interior Upgrades, marking the “largest contract the [Exhibition Hall Authority] has ever awarded to a Small and Emerging Business”.

The New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (MCCNO) houses an event space that can provide over 1 million contiguous linear feet for their customers, leaving endless possibilities only limited by the show designer’s imagination. Even with this impressive statistic, many convention-goers are drawn to MCCNO largely due to the culture, history and experiences New Orleans has to offer. With this in mind, NANO’s prime design directive takes a two-fold approach: modernize all meeting rooms, corridors, public gathering spaces, and pre-function spaces while incorporating the experience of New Orleans into the facility through food, art, lighting, textures, rhythms, movement, and visitor interactions.

Beginning in 1984, the facility was built in three phases over the course of 10 years; continuity was achieved at the building transitions, but over the years has become disconnected. A key ambition of NANO’s design team is to utilize the inconsistencies as opportunities for improvement, growth, and stability throughout the framework of the facility. NANO identified where the disconnects existed between MCCNO and their end goal before being able to address them and find the inherent opportunities. Interviews with staff were combined with research and on-site observations to identify and address all challenges and considerations.

Currently, NANO is responsible for the improvements of over 580,000 SF of space consisting of first floor lobby areas, pre-function skylight areas, pre-function corridors, and meeting rooms. All doors and storefronts will be replaced as part of the access control and security upgrades, as well as repairs to the Great Hall after Hurricane Ida and converting the Nouvelle Ballroom into additional meeting room spaces.

The team is utilizing the patterns, typical urban Arche types, and the natural forces of the Mississippi River that historically determined our unique urban grid system into the design of the facility. Abstracting typical materiality, exclusive to New Orleans and cultural context, we are producing a heterogenous design strategy for a holistic experience that emulates New Orleans without imitation.

Other crucial goals that are driving the design of the facility are the AIA 2030 Commitment, modernizing infrastructure and technology in a post-COVID environment, promoting local small businesses, cultivating a better connection with the New Orleans community, and strengthening MCCNO’s identity that captures the essence of New Orleans.

Frederick A. Douglass Senior High School Auditorium

Frederick A. Douglass Senior High School Auditorium

Use: Education
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 15,078 SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design

The Frederick Douglass High School auditorium isn’t just anarea for student performance; it’s an important civic space for the Bywater neighborhood. Since 2005, the auditorium has been closed due to damage from Hurricane Katrina; its grand Art Deco-inspired assemblyleft only for the use of storage. To help the school system return this invaluable resource to the community, NANO devised a strategy for making the auditorium more accessible, more accommodating, and more authentic than it has been for decades. 

In addition to overseeing the sensitive repairs of the hurricane-caused damage, we are working with local artisans and restoration specialists to preserve the feeling of the 1940s auditorium – cleaning and repainting its original deco-patterned acoustic tile ceiling and restoring all the original light fixtures and wooden chairs. And to ensure visitors are comfortable in the restored auditorium, we integrated a new air conditioning system into the building’s structure. The unobtrusive new system features custom high-flow grills artfully set into the existing ceiling grid, and ducts installed between the trusses concealed above. Visitors won’t see the changes, but on a sweltering New Orleans day, they’ll definitely feel the difference. 

While retaining the historic character of the 1940s building, NANO also improved accessibility throughout the building to ensure it could serve the entire community. With great care and thoughtfulness to the existing space, we incorporated a wheelchair lift into the stage, removed seating to create wider aisles, and added more visitor seating. We also integrated a more accessible production control platform to the theater’s main floor. Outside, working with the HDLC, we added a new exterior ramp that complements the building’s design and its recently updated courtyard.

NANO also prepared an alternate theater package for the school that will let them move forward with a complete revamp of the lighting and sound systems as soon as they have the resources. The new Frederick Douglass High School auditorium will help the New Orleans charter school system continue its mission to build students’ character and prepare them for the future of their choice.

New Orleans Fire Department Multi-Stations

New Orleans Fire Department Multi-Stations

Use: Municipal
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: Various
Category: Architecture

Hurricane Katrina severely damaged fire stations across New Orleans. Before substantial repairs could be made in the wake of the storm, FEMA had to survey every affected station in the city, complete a comprehensive damage report, and prepare an estimate for repairs. The City of New Orleans asked NANO to conduct a parallel survey confirming FEMA’s findings and oversee the needed updates to 12 of the city’s most essential stations. 

The work required exhaustive documentation and thorough organization. Leveraging our extensive expertise with historic structures and New Orleans building codes, we completed our independent audit. We worked closely with national and local agencies to get the city full and fair compensation for the repairs and equip the first responders with the resources they needed. Every station had different problems, requiring a meticulous review of each building, looking beyond the obvious flood damage compounded by the passing of time to understand the damage to the buildings’ structural and mechanical systems. Further complicating things, ersatz repairs were completed in many locations to get the stations operational and protect the city while FEMA completed their surveys.

In addition to auditing FEMA’s findings and preparing the necessary drawings, NANO also developed several alternate schemes and additional improvements the city could follow up on as resources become available. We then figured out the most efficient way to permit the work and phase the restorations. Because the stations had to close while renovations were completed, we identified a sequence of work that allowed us to make the needed updates to stations across the city while ensuring that every community continued to be protected.

This undertaking, along with NANO’s work restoring the New Orleans Fire Department Headquarters,has played a vital role in restoring the city’s essential services. We feel privileged to help protect the men and women who have pledged to protect us.

New Orleans Fire Department Headquarters & Training Academy


Use: Municipal/Commercial
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 18,500 SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design

When The New Orleans Fire Department closed its headquarters in 2011 due to hurricane and environmental issues, staff and resources were scattered across the city. To centralize this invaluable public service, NANO is transforming an old department training facility into a versatile headquarters and resilient storm shelter. When completed, the updated building’s flexible spaces and durable design will ensure that when disaster hits, the City’s first responders are ready.

The existing facility is a Post-Modern idiosyncratic 18,500-square-foot brick and plaster structure with a gabled roof and symbolic hose tower. Working in close collaboration with the fire chief, NANO redesigned the building for 24-hour operation. We updated the interior to work efficiently and accommodate the complex program needed for an emergency building, creating spaces for offices and administration areas, medical and training facilities, and a fully equipped dormitory.

A new 1,500-square-foot addition reflects the massing and geometry of the existing building. Clad in durable metal panels and louvers, the second-story addition bridges the main building and an adjacent auditorium to create a distinctive gateway that marks the facility’s entry and gives it a more modern sensibility. We reinforced this feeling by replacing all existing glazing with impact-resistant, black-framed windows and updating the façade with more contemporary exterior finishes.

Not only do the improvements enhance the building’s aesthetic,but they also make it safer. We upgraded the building to a Type II-B, Risk Category IV compliant structure. In addition to site remediation, water-proofing, and impact-resistant glazing, we designed a secure space for a large generator, an access control system fully integrated into the security monitoring system, and resilient flood mitigation and stormwater management solutions. 

Navigating the city’s institutions can be a challenge, but we’re proud to support the NOFD and get them back under one roof. This project strengthens the entire city by consolidating resources, improving communication and preparedness, and creating a greater sense of community among New Orleans firefighters.



Use: Municipal – Detention – Education
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 22,000 SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design
The $14.8 million, 22,000 SF Youth Study Center expansion will add 28 beds to the existing facility, and will be able to expand up to 60 total beds via a pre-engineered second floor addition.

The expansion includes a reception area, secure visitation rooms, classrooms, expanded dining services, medical services and associated support facilities. The classrooms are designed to be flexible for traditional classes, or set up for specialty art or science classes. Each classroom is also outfitted with an individual learning area for students who need one-on-one instruction or study space.

The 14,000 SF outdoor secure courtyard has multiple functions, such as a recreation yard with its half court basketball court, open green space and walking track. It also serves as an area of refuge and have covered circulation areas and seating areas.

Storm water management on this project is accomplished through the utilization of interior roof drains connected to subsurface drains tied to both existing and new retention ponds. A new pervious pavement service/access road further enables the project to meet or exceed storm water management expectations. Existing plantings and trees will be relocated across Imperial Drive with new trees and plantings to be added. The end result will be a tree lined street and shaded pedestrian sidewalk in keeping with New Orleans traditions.

New plantings will also be installed in bioswales and retention ponds. These will act to enhance the landscape visually while also acting as natural filters and mitigate water flow across the site.



Use: Municipal – Offices
Location: New Orleans, LA
Size: 44,000 SF
Category: Architecture & Interior Design

NANO was selected to renovate the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB) Engineering Building located on Claiborne Avenue. Built in 1984, with an addition done in 1994, it currently houses all of the testing laboratories, engineering departments, emergency operations, executive and administrative offices, a 500-person capacity auditorium, and archival large format storage of all the plans for the City of New Orleans’ sewerage and water system.

Through an in-depth programming phase and analysis of the site, NANO has established a new centralized lobby that eases access, enhances security, and enables a new layout that reinforces the organizational requirements. While the current facility was ringed by closed offices, NANO carved out exterior skin between the existing structure to provide a more cohesive response to the issue of natural light, balanced spaces and intercommunication for the engineers, while allocating for future departmental growth.

Substantial area was recaptured by the fundamental design change of a central lobby, as well as condensing hardscape walls and the introduction of efficient, high capacity storage areas. In addition, all MEP services are moving to the roof to provide public exterior space for clients and employees with a direct connection to nature. A redistribution of the interior spaces allowed for better community and meeting spaces for public interaction and press announcements. Additionally, all base building services were brought up to current life safety codes.

The project was phased for construction. This provided integrated solutions for MEP and structural modifications as well as the full service laboratory functions to operate 24/7.

The intensive programming component for this project, inclusive of questionnaires, revealed several exceptional key points. First is the need to establish a public entrance from the parking lot. The second is the desire and need for natural light for the majority of the employees. Third is the need for more community gathering spaces for employees and public users that visit. Finally, the need for a better internal organization that better facilitates inter-departmental communications.

The result will be a 21st century renovation that will answer the needs of the building’s occupants through materiality, light, and equal distribution of spaces.