Sometimes the most creative aspect of a project is the elegance of the deal that made it possible. That is the case for the Shop at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) in New Orleans, a new co-working space, designed by Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (EDR), located inside a museum—a first in the U.S. Occupying the top two floors of the building, the Shop has a decidedly tech-office vibe, with a variety of workspaces including private offices, a communal lobby that feels (and acts) like one in a boutique hotel, and a young, creative demographic. For the CAC, it’s a deal that was many years in the making.
Jump to credits & specifications
The artist-founded CAC has scrappy roots. When the organization moved into its historic 1905 building in 1977, the surrounding Warehouse District was in freefall. Many of its would-be neighbors were pulling up stakes and leaving. Most of the historic buildings nearby were empty; others had been demolished, tragically, to make way for parking lots. The museum took up residence on the bottom two floors of the building, leaving the third and fourth levels for storage and temporary rentals. A renovation in 1990, designed by Concordia, created a dramatic building-height atrium that helped put the museum on the cultural map and sparked the neighborhood’s eventual rebirth. But the top two floors remained woefully underutilized for decades.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying. In 1999, the museum’s landlord, local philanthropist Sydney Besthoff, donated the building to the CAC. “We’ve been trying to maximize those floors to generate income for the nonprofit since the building was given to us almost two decades ago,” says Neil Barclay, CAC director and CEO. Over the years, the museum vetted innumerable proposals: public and arts high schools, a branch of the University of New Orleans, condos, rental units, the World War II Museum (which eventually got built blocks away), a Barnes & Noble superstore, an advertising agency, The Times-Picayune, even a radio station. None led to a workable partnership.
In October 2014, the CAC conducted a building evaluation and determined that the 109-year old structure needed more than $4 million in building upgrades. The list was long and typical for a building its age, but the money to do the work was largely nonexistent. So, about a year later, the organization renewed its exploration of real-estate options for the upper floors. The most promising offer, a boutique hotel, posed logistical problems connected to art and security. “So, as we were vetting that deal—and it was a good deal—we got this second offer from Domain Companies,” Barclay says.
Domain Companies, in the persons of Matt Schwartz and Chris Papamichael—a pair of former Tulane University fraternity brothers, who returned to New Orleans post-Katrina and have developed a handful of projects in the Warehouse District—had been considering a co-working project, but hadn’t found the right venue. They learned, through EDR principal and former CAC board member Steve Dumez, among others, about the museum’s difficulties. Schwartz and Papamichael sensed an opportunity and presented a plan to the board. “We told them, ‘We have a great idea that will be a perfect match for what you’re doing,’ ” Papamichael says.
The CAC came back a week later with a counterproposal, and in less than a month a deal was struck. Using state and federal historic-tax credits, Domain was able to fold the building-improvement funds into its $12 million budget. A 49-year lease was signed that includes $200,000 in annual rent, with increases for inflation every five years. EDR, which had done several previous projects in the area with Domain, was hired as architect of the building renovation and Domain’s co-working venture, called the Shop.
The first order of business was to install a new roof (with a deck for seating), replacement windows, and a new HVAC system. The design team then created a first-floor visual-arts gallery and made enhancements to the museum’s two adjoining warehouses, which are critical to its mission and finances. (They host CAC-sponsored performances and produce significant revenue from special-event rentals, such as Serena Williams’s wedding last November.)
EDR’s design solution for the Shop was an elegant and spatial one. Taking full advantage of the light-filled atrium, they replaced decades-old Sheetrock with glass, carved out common areas on both floors, and then connected them with a dramatic central staircase. “We designed the stair so that it would occupy a large area of the third floor, which is the main level,” Dumez says. The concrete plinth emerges out of the floor to become both stairs and seating, and spreads out to serve as informal working and conversation zones. The common areas throughout the Shop provide a variety of work-style options and are beautifully curated, with both site-specific and local art.
Individual offices and workspaces for independent freelancers and small businesses—which include a high percentage of architects and designers as well as Domain—ring the common areas. For a co-working facility, all of it feels remarkably cohesive. In less than a year, Domain says, they’ve almost reached full capacity.
The CAC’s Barclay describes the Shop’s arrival, in September, as “transformational.” But the transformations aren’t just architectural. One of the quieter aspects of the deal was a smart and synergistic arrangement whereby members of the Shop automatically become members of the museum. As it turns out, the 300 or so new members have been fairly active ones. “We noticed their participation during our annual fundraiser,” Barclay says. The bustle and activity above the CAC also sends the right signal to the funding world. “Although we’re not entirely dependent on foundations,” he adds, “they’re a big part of our income, and they like to see that we’re making money the old-fashioned way: earning it with the assets we have.”
Eskew+Dumez+Ripple, 365 Canal Street, Suite 3150, New Orleans, LA, (504) 561-8686, eskewdumezripple.com
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Steve Dumez, design director, Jose Alvarez, principal-in-charge, Hussein Alayyan, project manager, Jill Traylor-Mayo, interior designer, Emily Heausler, Andy Redmon, project team
Architect of record:
same as above
MEP: YKM Consulting
Structural: PACE Group
Art Curation: Studio Interior Design
Neil Alexander, Sara Essex Bradley
EIFS, ACM, or other: Amerimix
Moisture barrier: Sto
Other cladding unique to this project: Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (AAC) : Hebel
Built-up roofing: Soprema
Other: Ipe Deck : Advantage Lumber
Metal frame: Wausau
Skylights: Birdview Skylights
Entrances: Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope
Metal doors: Assa Abloy
Wood doors: Assa Abloy
Sliding doors: Kawneer
Fire-control doors, security grilles: Won-Door
Special doors: Modernfold
Upswinging doors, other: Bifold doors : PC Henderson
Locksets: Yale. Assa Abloy
Closers: Yale, Assa Abloy
Exit devices: Assa Abloy
Pulls: Assa Abloy, Yale
Security devices: Kisi
Acoustical ceilings: FilzFelt, Armstrong Ultima
Suspension grid: Armstrong Suprafine
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Construct: Custom Architectural Fabrications, LLC
Paints and stains: Benjamin Moore
Wall coverings: Maharam, Trove, NLXL, Eykon
Plastic laminate: Laminart
Solid surfacing: Caesarstone, Cosentino
Special surfacing: Offecct, FilzFelt
Floor and wall tile: Iris Ceramica, Daltile, Crossville
Carpet: Tandus Centiva, Masland
Office furniture: Knoll, Darran
Reception furniture: Custom
Fixed seating: Construct: Custom Architectural Fabrications, LLC
Chairs: Johanson Design, Global, Sandler, Howe, Bernhardt, Article, Room and Board, GusModern, Zuo Modern, Andreu World, Nuevo Living, Grand Rapids, Industry West, Hay, Blu Dot, Soho Concept, CB2, 1st Dibbs
Tables: OFS, Darran, Hightower, Gus Modern, Berco, Misewell, Article, Goodwood NOLA, CB2
Upholstery: Maharam, Knoll, Camira, Valley Forge, DesignTex
Other furniture: Rugs: CB2, Restoration Hardware, BluDot, Surya, Room and Board
Interior ambient lighting: Zuo, School House Electric, Lambert & Fils, Avenue Lighting, Kichler, Roll & Hill, Circa, Workstead, Jason Home, Modernist, Flos, Prudential Lighting
Downlights: LiteForms, Eaton, Prima Lighting Corp.
Exterior: Bruck Lighting
Dimming system or other lighting controls: Legrand
Lavatory: Sloan, Elkay
Faucets: Sloan, Chicago Faucets
Energy management or building automation system: Siemens