With the recent and anticipated openings of multiple projects in Louisiana, we’re highlighting all of the projects we’ve undertaken in the state since we started working there in 2006. Since the tragic fallout of Hurricane Katrina, we’ve been honored to help cities and institutions of Louisiana emerge to a period of renewal and momentum. From hospitality to exhibits and transit, there is a lot of fantastic work happening down south. This article will take you on a guided tour of our new, recent and soon-to-open architectural projects along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana.
One of CambridgeSeven’s most significant projects in Louisiana has been the historic transformation of the 1968 World Trade Center tower into a luxury mixed-use development that includes a 347-key Four Seasons Hotel on the lower floors and 98 luxury condominiums on the upper floors. The tower, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is shaped and oriented like a compass and had sat mostly vacant since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. This major investment is the spark of urban renewal and revitalization along this stretch of the Mississippi waterfront. The hotel is now one of the largest Four Seasons hotels in the world and will bring in a wave of visitors to this part of New Orleans. A multi-story addition at the tower’s base expands public space for a the conference and convening center with two ballrooms, several meeting rooms, and a roof-top pool. We also revitalized the connection with the river-facing Spanish plaza at the base of the building to create a more enjoyable pedestrian experience at street level.
An entirely separate project is embedded in the Four Seasons tower. Vue Orleans is the Big Easy’s newest cultural attraction that starts at street level and extends all the way to the 34th floor. We worked extensively with Cortina Productions to craft a new typology of exhibit design that blends tourism with cultural identity, mixes play with learning, and presents a rich physical environment with captivating digital experiences. In addition to the exciting new technology features, what makes this attraction so unique is the involvement of local artists, performers, musicians and historians to tell the story of New Orleans’ cultural diversity. Colorful galleries are dotted with larger-than-life-size projections of the city’s most noted names from voodoo queen Marie Laveau to jazz great Jelly Roll Morton to celebrity chef Kevin Belton. The Vue Orleans experience begins at the street level with a towering LED screen to welcome visitors and draw them into the 2nd story winding space of colorful galleries highlighting local art, cuisine, fashion and music. An immersive elevator ride takes visitors up to the 33rd floor and a simultaneous journey through time as they see the city develop on 270-degree-surroundng screens. More interactive exhibits greet visitors at the top of the tower, as do breathtaking views of the entire city enjoyed from the topmost observation deck.
On the north side of the hotel sits the Audubon Nature Institute’s (ANI) aquarium building. We’re working with Eskew Dumez Ripple to give the facility a whole new presence on the waterfront and a transformed visitor experience, setting a new direction that will guide the institution for the coming decades. The ANI facility renovation includes removing and decommissioning the Imax Theater, renovating the gift shop, improving the exterior cladding system with glass curtainwall, adding new classrooms and administrative office spaces, and a new glass-enclosed lobby outfitted with living green walls. The renovations will reinforce ANI’s mission of “Celebrating the Wonders of Nature” and ensuring that those wonders will be enjoyed for years to come.
To spearhead this master planning effort, CambridgeSeven designed the ANI Roadmap which outlines a series of stories centered around the strong conservation efforts of the organization. We developed a design language that unifies the attraction experience through a variety of exhibits. The proposed transformation repurposes valuable elements of the existing aquarium exhibits and consolidates the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (ABGI) exhibits from the disparate locations; putting these separate programs in the same location creates a more holistic experience for visitors.
Relocating the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium involves refurbishing existing exhibits into a new gallery that celebrates the diversity and significance of insects. Visitors will enjoy live presentations by ANI’s entomologists, media interactives, vivariums, an insect café and a reimagined butterfly garden. The metamorphosis of the ABGI will expand the conservation message and keep it central to the visitor’s experience.
An improved replacement Canal Street Ferry Terminal is under construction. Located at the end of Canal Street and between the Audubon Nature Institute and the new Four Seasons Hotel and Private Residences, the terminal serves the ferry line that crosses the Mississippi from downtown to Algiers Point. As the site along Canal Street will see increased foot traffic with the opening of the hotel and attractions, our design creates a new transit hub that will be much more accessible to pedestrians. Conceived as a light and airy structure with large overhangs to protect patrons from the sun and rain, the terminal also provides a bridge connection across the Railroad Beltway and the Trolley tracks for safe pedestrian passage to the terminal and waterfront. When complete, the terminal will connect Spanish Plaza, the riverfront Woldenburg Park and all of the site amenities into a cohesive pedestrian waterfront experience.
Further west, our exhibits and museum design team members are working with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Children’s Museum of Southwest Louisiana to create a new building and new exhibits for both at Port Wonder. This wave-inspired building on the shore of Lake Charles includes boardwalk connections to several parks, the Civic Center, and downtown. One half of Port Wonder will house a STEM-focused children’s museum with exhibits dedicated to the human body, backyard nature, city life, and technology. The nature center portion of Port Wonder will highlight Louisiana’s natural features like the bayou, marshes, and the Cameron Jetty. It will also celebrate the aquatic life in and around Louisiana by bringing visitors face to face with a variety of local species and invasive species at multiple aquarium exhibits. The nature center and children’s museum meet to form a public lobby and event space with expansive views out to the water.
Back in Louisiana’s capital of Baton Rouge, one of our earliest projects in the state–-Knock Knock Children’s Museum, attracts visitors of all ages. The beloved museum features several different exhibit areas for young learners to explore the parallel ideas of “city” and “nature,” all of it reinforcing the overall themes of literacy and curiosity. Firmly rooted in the local and regional community, exhibits exploring Baton Rouge’s rich heritage, geography and culture help children and families gain a sense of place. Children can role-play as mechanics, veterinarians, architects and crane operators in the city. Fish Tales, the Crawbaby toddler area, and an Art Garden encourage children to explore their creative sides with tactile interactivities inspired by Baton Rouge’s natural landscape.
Our initial Louisiana project came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. New Orleans experienced an unfortunate dearth of tourists and damage to the city, including some of their iconic museums and CambridgeSeven worked with the Louisiana State Museum , which operates five historic properties in the city’s French Quarter, including The Cabildo, The Presbytère, 1850 House, Madame John’s Legacy, and the Old U.S. Mint. Through the Master Plan, the recovery effort became an opportunity to help them rebuild for the future, crafting a refined mission, developing renovation strategies, identifying key gallery relocations and physical enhancements, and integrating new exhibit themes.