Severn Avenue Streetscape, in Metairie, Louisiana.

Severn Avenue Streetscape, in Metairie, Louisiana.

Perez attended the ribbon cutting yesterday for the Severn Avenue Streetscape, in Metairie, Louisiana, at the corner of Veterans Highway and Severn Avenue. The planning for this project started more than 10 years ago, when the New Orleans Regional Planning Commission hired Perez to do a Feasibility Study. Johanna Leibe and Brandon Adams were the Landscape Architects that completed that study. Later, when Jefferson Parish secured funding for the project, Perez joined the ECM design team, and Johanna and Brandon designed the Severn Avenue streetscape in Metairie, Louisiana At the ribbon cutting, Parish President Cynthia Lee Sheng, Parish Parish Councilwoman for District 5 Jennifer Van Vrancken, businessman Henry Shane, and other dignitaries made remarks, and then cut the ribbon. Henry and Pat Shane have donated a number of sculptures to beautify public spaces in Jefferson Parish, so a plaque was unveiled naming the Henry Shane Sculpture Trail. Renderings of future lighting improvements and a new sculpture soon to be installed at the intersection where we were standing, were also unveiled. Big shout out to Johanna and Brandon for making Jefferson Parish so much more beautiful! Thank you New Orleans Regional Planning Commission (Karen Parson and Lynn Dupont attended), ECM for adding Perez to your design team; and to Jefferson Parish leaders for your vision and for giving Perez the opportunity to serve the Parish.”

Case Study: 1713 Erato Street Apartments

Case Study: 1713 Erato Street Apartments

The proposed project is located on a shallow lot along a residential side street in a historic urban neighborhood. The program includes common space amenities, a fitness center, landscaping, and on-site parking. A mix of townhouse-style multi-level units and apartment flats are provided, in one-, two-, and three-bedroom

Apartment Configuration

Due to the tight site constraints and various unit configurations required, multiple massing strategies were explored.

Strict zoning regulations required vehicle parking to be located to the rear of the site, so scenarios with a vehicle pass-thru were considered.

Design Schemes studied different building shapes, some with a driveway under the building and others with a driveway outside of the building.

A = Two Bedroom B = One Bedroom C = Studio

Different unit mix studies took place to ensure maximum space efficiency.

Ground Level Floor Plan
Mezzanine Level Floor Plan
Upper-Level Floor Plan

Progress 3D studies help the design team understand the volumes and masses of the different spaces and the overall feel and interaction with daylight.

3D study of the mail area is adjacent to the fitness center. A separate room for large resident packages was provided on the ground level as well.

Exterior Design at the end of the Design Development Phase.

The design of the lobby is intended to evoke a bright and inviting mood by strategically using color, views, and materiality. Finishes include engineered hardwood floors, stone tile, crisp white paint, and brass elements throughout. Amenities in the lobby include the reception, mail room, work, and lounge spaces, and a coffee station.

The lounge and workspaces in the lobby create a functional space for tenants while keeping common areas active and lively.

The residential units’ aesthetic approach is intended to provide a clean backdrop for the tenant’s furniture and décor, featuring herringbone LVT floors, white walls, doors, and cabinetry with brass hardware to tie to the rest of the building’s metal elements.

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Stage Built With Insight) ABBA’s High-Tech Arena

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Stage Built With Insight) ABBA’s High-Tech Arena

With the internet buzzing about the impending rise of the metaverse and the rapid development of A.I.-generated art, it seems like the distinction between digital and physical creativity could someday seem like an insignificant one. Over a few short decades, computer-generated art has infused nearly every medium—generating previously-impossible sounds, de-aging actors, and performers, and even creating original images whole cloth. And while in-person performances may seem like a safe exception to this digital intrusion, that may not last for long. Because computer-generated avatars are already playing to 3,000 real fans a night.

While some super-fans flock to Las Vegas to see their idols in the flesh, the disco-faithful are making a pilgrimage to London to witness a particularly futuristic kind of spectacle: ABBA’s “virtual” residency. ABBA Voyage offers fans the chance to party with the Swedish megastars, preserved in algorithmic amber to appear as they might have at their 1977 peak. However, Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha, and Anni-Frid are never, actually, in the building.

Backed by a live ten-piece band, four animated “ABBA-tars” appear on a giant high-definition screen at center-stage, pre-rendered by more than a thousand tech geniuses at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic. Like many Star Wars characters, the ABBA-tars were created through an extensive motion-capture process, with band members donning special suits and performing their setlist for 160 cameras over five weeks. These sessions were then blended with footage of period-appropriate body doubles and animated to create a career-capping reunion set. The result is a highly-synchronized extravaganza of light, sound, and surreal visuals. It’s time travel to a place that never quite existed in the first place.

Of course, such a state-of-the-art attraction deserves a venue to match. Rather than occupying an existing theatre, ABBA Voyage needed a canvas attuned to the intricate demands of the production. For that, producers turned to Stufish Entertainment Architects, seasoned experts in the field of elaborate stage shows and purpose-built theatrical environments. Their experience mounting massive stadium tours would be relevant to the Arena’s construction. Because in order to win approval for its Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park location, ABBA’s new venue would need to be a temporary structure, built with demountable materials.

However, ABBA Arena is far from a glorified circus tent. Its sleek design evokes a mysterious extraterrestrial craft—if the aliens inside were passionate fans of Scandinavian design. Built from steel and sustainable timber, the arena feels both classy and cutting-edge. Optimized to be as light as possible to reduce load on the building’s foundation, the building features a prefabricated steel dome that can be assembled in situ and mounted with 18-strand jacks.

The audience’s journey into the venue is just as considered as their experience of the show. A generous concourse area welcomes them through a striking timber canopy to shield them against London’s notorious rain. Once inside, two dramatic (but accessible) corridors lead audience members to the hexagonal showroom, selected to offer generous sight lines and allow audience members to see each other and enjoy a collective, human experience. Fans can choose from balcony seats, a general-admission dance floor, or a private “dance box.”

Early reviews have been enthusiastic, with critics praising the show’s obsessive attention to detail—including an interlude that allows the performers to “change outfits.” However, there’s also plenty of enthusiasm for the venue itself, which was clearly conceived not as a container but as a kind of disco pavilion to be judged on its own merits. Only time will tell if the project earns back its astronomical £ 140 million budget. If it does, expect a bidding war between cities clamoring for the ABBA UFO to touch down in their backyard.

If ABBA Voyage does succeed, it’s not hard to imagine the proliferation of digitally-reproduced legacy franchises, taking the idea of “remastering” to a new level. In a few years, demountable venues might be touring the world with digital roadshows, resurrecting history’s greatest acts in ever-higher definition. After all, who wants to see an aging musician when they can see an act exactly as they remember it: in the perfect glow of nostalgia?

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / OCTOBER – DECEMBER 2022 – Amazing Buildings

Building Brand-First: BIG’s Consumer Destinations – San Pellegrino and The Plus

Building Brand-First: BIG’s Consumer Destinations – San Pellegrino and The Plus

Visitors to Italy have plenty of pilgrimages to choose from. You can tread the cobblestones of Florence to see Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” at the Uffizi galleries. You can charter a gondola to peep the underside of Venice’s famous Rialto Bridge. And soon, you’ll be able to make the trek to mountainous Brembana Valley in northern Italy to seek the source of San Pellegrino, one of the world’s best-loved mineral waters. It’s a trip that hydration fanatic Leonardo Da Vinci made in 1509, inspiring a treatise on the subject of water. In those days, San Pellegrino was a far humbler alpine destination. 

The San Pellegrino Flagship Factory

Once the San Pellegrino Flagship Factory is completed in 2022 or 2023, pilgrims will find a state-of-the-art, $95 million headquarters. Serving as a bottling plant, visitors’ center, and monument to the green-bottled brand, the Flagship is the effervescent brainchild of Danish architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), selected in an international design competition for the job.

As one might expect at a cathedral to mineral water, a sense of geology is at the heart of the experience. The building’s storytelling is meant to evoke the thirty-year journey of San Pellegrino’s flagship product from the summit of the mountain to its source. And in the building’s courtyard, visitors can see a core sample of the mountain’s stratified rock that gives the water its mineral quality. Aesthetically, the complex is inspired by classical Italian forms. Visitors are welcomed by an open piazza of undulating brick and a wall of minimal stone archways. These simple arches dominate the complex, acting as porticos, bridges, and sculptures throughout. The overall effect is to distill a history of architecture into a single expression as timeless as the water that’s bottled there. 

However, there’s clearly another inspiration for the building’s sensibility: San Pellegrino’s brand itself. Inviting but austere, aspirational but democratic, the project feels just as informed by a high-level creative brief as much as it does by architectural drawings. 

At some point—long ago—the idea of a “brand” was straightforward. Designed to help differentiate a company’s product or service from the competition, a brand might include a company’s name, logo, and color palette. Today, however, the concept of “brand” has grown to encompass myriad associated concepts, from sponsored content creation to meticulously planned experiences to apparel partnerships. The idea is that consumers will form a positive collective impression from these disparate touch points and, ideally, buy more of your company’s fizzy water instead of someone else’s. Unsurprisingly, brand thinking has also entered the architectural realm, guiding decisions at the highest levels. 

The Plus

Branded architecture also drives another of BIG’s high-profile projects: The Plus. Designed for Norwegian outdoor furniture brand Vestre, The Plus bills itself as the world’s most environmentally friendly furniture factory. Acting as a manufacturing plant plus a visitors’ center, it’s not hard to glean the reason for the all-in-one building’s name. It’s also shaped like a giant plus sign. In the world of branding, subtlety isn’t as important as clarity and consistency. 

Vibrant and whimsical, the facility is a LEGO–futurist marvel that practically shouts Vestre’s five-point brand manifesto at every turn. Brightly color-coded to elucidate the furniture-building process, the interiors resemble something between a giant subway map and a board game for toddlers. Curious visitors can follow furniture’s progress across the four wings: Wood Factory, Color Factory, Assembly, and Warehouse. 

Nestled in a forest, The Plus is surrounded tightly by trees, while the building’s circular-open-air hub brings the outside in with a playful spiral staircase. Snaking paths surround the facility, encouraging visitors to explore, play, and even camp out near the factory. For a company that builds bike racks, picnic tables, and planters for public use, it’s only fitting that the headquarters feels inviting, encouraging, and filled with wonder for nature. 

In a sense, branded headquarters are nothing new. Every corporate visitors center ever built has made some attempt to turn curious fans into lifelong loyalists. However, what may be new is the BIG’s ability to elegantly translate a brand’s intangible qualities into a designed space. If more brands boasted a headquarters as compelling as San Pellegrino or Vestre, it’s entirely plausible that we’d start to see an emergence of another kind of tourism: the brand pilgrimage. Already common for breweries, distilleries, and vineyards, one can easily imagine eager tourists planning their vacations around seeing the homes of the brands they love best. 

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / MAY – JUNE 2022 – Amazing Buildings



Nearly three years ago, the world watched in stunned disbelief as Notre Dame de Paris burned. To watch one of the world’s most iconic landmarks engulfed in flames was a surreal reminder that nothing can be permanent or certain, no matter how central it is to our collective imagination.

After fifteen hours of firefighting, the blaze was finally extinguished. While the fire damaged the lead and oak-beam roof extensively and destroyed the building’s flèche (a spire towering above the nave), much of the building—including its two towers and its breathtaking stained-glass windows—survived. Almost immediately after the fire, conversation turned to swiftly rebuilding and restoring the landmark. And it didn’t take long for that conversation to turn into a spirited argument.

Over the course of 850 years, Notre Dame de Paris has often been the object of dispute, a crown jewel constantly changing hands, shifting meanings, and reflecting the moments that make up France’s turbulent history.

Sitting on a site that’s believed to have once been a Roman temple to Jupiter, the cathedral has been renovated, expanded, and re-contextualized so many times since that a short history is impossible. The cathedral held the relics of the Passion of the Christ, including the crown of thorns said to have sat on Jesus’s head. During the French Revolution, Notre Dame was desecrated, stripped of precious metals, and converted into a Temple of Reason. Soon after, the cathedral hosted the coronation of Napoleon. Later in the 19th century, Victor Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame in an act of architectural advocacy, raising awareness of the building’s neglect and decay leading to a restoration effort that would cement Notre Dame as a national symbol. By the 21st century, it was the most visited monument in Paris.

It’s no wonder, then, that emotions ran high in the immediate aftermath of the 2019 fire. When the French government announced an international design competition to design a roof and spire “more beautiful than before,” backlash was swift and strong. The wounds of the fire still fresh, there was little appetite for contemporary reimagining, and soon French president Emmanuel Macron backtracked, vowing that the restoration would be “exact” and completed in time for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Thanks to Covid-related delays, Macron’s timeline may need a series of miracles. 

Logistically, the restoration will need to go to elaborate lengths to match the cathedral’s condition pre-fire. In 2021, a national search was conducted to source the 1,000 oak trees required to reconstruct the “forest” of wooden roof beams that fueled the fire. Crews scoured forests throughout France—sometimes by drone—for trees 150 years and older. The effort drew considerable opposition from ecological groups who objected to the harvesting of such old-growth stock.

Concerns about potentially-dangerous fallout from the building’s incinerated lead roof also linger, especially among the neighborhoods around the cathedral. France’s aggressive timeline for restoration could put workers at risk, as testing of the site has shown lead levels hundreds of times higher than the safe threshold. And yet, the restoration’s plan calls for continued use of the toxic metal for the roof and spire. Perhaps ironically, the spire in question dated back only to the 19th-century restoration when Eugène Viollet-le-Duc recreated the weakened medieval-era flèche. 

More recently, alarmist scrutiny has turned against proposed updates to Notre Dame’s interior, drawing fire in a larger, ongoing culture war. Those who see “traditional” French history and iconography as under threat have begun to panic about a “woke” and modernizing restoration of Notre Dame. Intended to invite wider audiences into conversation with the divine, the additions include more open space, digital projections of welcome, and the incorporation of contemporary art.

Objections to the updates may have more to do with freezing Notre Dame in time than the intent of the cathedral. The building’s many sculptures were intended to offer a “liber pauperum” or a “book of the poor,” illustrating biblical stories for illiterate visitors. Multilingual digital projections may serve a similarly inclusive purpose.

No matter how it’s done, Notre Dame’s restoration is bound to incur the wrath of some concerned party. And if Notre Dame reflects our times, maybe it’s fitting that its current incarnation is that of the subject of virulent debate.

Originally Published in:

THE NETWORK / MARCH – APRIL 2022 – Amazing Buildings