MetroStudio’s role in the preservation and innovation embracing New Orleans
Kenneth Gowland, licensed architect and one of the founding partners of MetroStudio, has worked on residential and commercial building projects all over the world, including Liverpool, England; the Canary Islands; New York and Asia, but he says that working in the architecture industry in New Orleans is probably the most rewarding. “What is interesting about New Orleans is that no matter what the size of the project, people tend to notice the work more,” Gowland says. “People here are concerned about and aware of their environment.”
Originally from New Orleans, Gowland earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Louisiana State University and a master’s degree in architecture from Yale University. Before he returned home to start his own firm, Gowland was an architect with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects in New Haven, Connecticut; Gensler in New York; and Platt Byard Dovell White Architects in New York. Gowland gained valuable experience through several major projects, including the urban design of Central Liverpool; the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma; and the expansion and redevelopment of Terminal 7 at JFK International Airport.
He returned to New Orleans in June 2005, and, as a result, MetroStudio became heavily involved in the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region following Hurricane Katrina.
Gowland officially founded MetroStudio after receiving a phone call from Brad Pitt asking him to enter an international design competition to develop concepts for Global Green’s Holy Cross Development, which involved building a sustainable neighborhood with affordable housing and a community center in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. “This project gave us a focus on the way we needed to look at the city post-Katrina,” Gowland says. “We got to explore issues of sustainability, including resilient construction, materiality, energy efficiency and storm water mitigation. That project was a watershed moment that allowed us to uncover some very important themes in our work. When else in life do you have the skills to really have a significant impact on a place?”
Today, MetroStudio’s staff of eight architects and designers continues to focus on restoration and sustainable development. The firm handles projects across a wide spectrum that includes both new construction and historical restoration in urban and suburban environments. The team’s recent projects include performing arts projects, institutional design, hospitality projects, commercial and retail construction, multi-family residential and even some custom single-family home design.
In 2011, MetroStudio completed the redevelopment and repurposing of the historic Joy Theater in downtown New Orleans, which Gowland counts as one of his team’s paramount projects. [I believe it] anchored some of the renaissance in the performing arts spaces downtown,” he says. “We put the neon back up on Canal Street. Growing up in New Orleans, the building was always derelict and underutilized; to see it turned in to multipurpose performance venue was a special accomplishment.”
MetroStudio’s other highlighted projects include the design and construction administration for the Valero Southeast Louisiana Headquarters in St. Bernard Parish and the Queen & Crescent Hotel, which had been in foreclosure and has since been named as the No. 2 hotel in New Orleans by Travelocity. Recently completed projects also include the ReFresh Project located along the Broad Street corridor. This project entailed the transformation of an old Schwegmann’s building into an epicenter for fresh food and community health initiatives, including Whole Foods Market, Liberty’s Kitchen, Tulane University School of Medicine and Broad Community Connections. Current work includes the new 160-unit California Building development at 1111 Tulane Ave. and the five-acre Laketown retail development in Kenner. Gowland says that all of these projects are part of the radical transformation of the post-Katrina New Orleans metropolitan area.
Gowland also notes that while the delicate and intricate architectural fabric of the city is part of its charm, it’s also part of his industry’s greatest challenge when it comes to working in New Orleans. What sets MetroStudio apart is the team’s willingness to deal with that balancing aspect of a project. “We consider the regulatory issues as part of the design problem,” says Gowland, who is a member of PRC Architectural Review Committee. “Other markets may have more freedom to pursue innovative design solutions, but here you always have to balance innovation with preservation.”
MetroStudio embraces this challenge, and the firm has several projects in the New Year that Gowland says continue to point to an exciting urban condition in the city. “There is progress where there previously had been none,” he says. “It’s amazing that my children are going to see the city in a whole new light that I never would have imagined. MetroStudio is extremely grateful to be involved in this renaissance.” metrostudio.net