Mathes Brierre Architects
- Written by: Molly Shaw
- Produced by: Ian Nichols
- Estimated reading time: 7 mins
In a city with such distinct traditions as New Orleans, Mathes Brierre Architects has been keeping many national historic landmarks, cultural and community centers alive and well, ensuring the Big Easy never loses its unique ambiance. While the firm has a strong presence and reputation at home in New Orleans, Mathes Brierre’s portfolio also includes renowned projects around the United States and in Central America.
As one of the oldest and largest architectural firms in Louisiana, Mathes Brierre traces its roots back to 1891 when Charles A. Favrot and L.A. Livaudais founded what was then Favrot & Livaudais. The younger partners, H. Mortimer Favrot and Alan C. Reed, changed the name in 1934 to Favrot and Reed after the deaths of C.A. Favrot and L.A. Livaudais.
It wasn’t until 1949 that Earl L. Mathes and William E. Bergman became partners in the organization, changing the name of the firm to Favrot, Reed, Mathes and Bergman. In 1958, after the deaths of Favrot and Reed, the firm name changed to Mathes, Bergman and Associates. Edward Mathes, son of Earl, joined the firm in 1969 to continue the company’s legacy. In 1982, the firm adopted the name The Mathes Group and in 2001, Mathes Brierre Architects.
Mathes Brierre focuses on architecture, master planning, interior design and landscape architecture services across a range of sectors — music and performing arts, institutional, health care, commercial and many more. “We don’t have a particular niche,” says Ed Mathes, chairman of Mathes Brierre. “New Orleans is a fairly small market, so you have to be diverse in your offerings.”
No matter the market, Mathes Brierre seeks to build longstanding relationships with clients. “We really pride ourselves in building repeat business and relationships with clients so they keep coming back,” says Ed.
Today, Mathes Brierre has steadily built its staff and now has a team of 50 architects, interior designers and administrative professionals. Every employee, client and project Mathes Brierre has been involved in over the last century has helped established the firm’s strong identity in New Orleans and beyond.
“One of our first major undertakings since I’ve been involved was the U.S. Courthouse and Federal Office building — a major joint venture project in New Orleans,” recounts Ed. “We also did the Place St. Charles, a 53-story office building in the city in partnership with a Toronto firm. We completed this project in 1985 and the Pelican Homestead and Savings Association Headquarters, a 138,000-square-foot facility, in 1986.”
Ed says one of the best decisions Mathes Brierre has ever made was adding an interior design group. “When things are slow construction-wise, there are always law firms and banks or offices doing interior renovations and build-outs,” he says.
In the mid-1980s, the firm completed the new headquarters of Freeport-McMoRan Inc., a full 17-floor interior overhaul. “We completed 17 floors in 14 months,” says Ed. “It was an incredible amount of work and it really helped establish us as a major interior architecture firm. Another large corporate headquarters interior project was the redesign and expanded space for Entergy Corporation, completed in 1995. We are currently working on a restack project for them.”
Striking a chord in performance facilities
Also in the mid-1980s, Mathes Brierre began to make its mark in performing arts centers. “We completed several theaters and music centers at Loyola University in New Orleans and as far away as Arizona State University, Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, University of Houston, Baylor University and Goshen College,” says Ed. “Today, we continue to deliver many music and performing arts centers across the country.”
“We have also been involved in the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts — an arts-driven high school for select students across the city and now the school is adding a culinary arts program,” continues Ed. “Within the last 25 years or so, we have been constantly involved in many performance facilities; it’s a deep part of the tradition here.”
Rebuilding a stronger community
After the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina, Mathes Brierre helped keep the arts alive and well in New Orleans. “In collaboration with Habitat for Humanity we worked to construct the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music in Musician’s Village, a community and performance center in the destroyed 9th Ward of New Orleans,” notes Ed.
“While we were doing a lot of work outside of New Orleans, we sort of came back to our roots to focus on the city after Hurricane Katrina,” he adds. Mathes Brierre wasted no time finding a new office space and with the help of a client, the team set up shop post-Katrina in Baton Rouge. “Within a week we set up an office in a space loaned from our telecommunications client,” recounts Ed.
Mathes Brierre went to work on schools, churches and health care facilities. “We helped build a new Lutheran Church — one of the first new buildings to go up post-Katrina; we rehabilitated a five-story Red Cross facility and helped the Red Cross establish a new emergency operations center north of New Orleans,” says Ed. “We also worked on a brand new medical center at Plaquemines Parish, which is now well above the flood zone. In a local partnership, Mathes Brierre was chosen to renovate and restore the Louisiana State University Health School of Dentistry. There was also a terrific need for housing in the city, so we worked on many residential jobs, including The Muses Apartment Homes in central city for mixed-income housing.”
Working on tight timelines
As the rebuilding effort continues, even nearly a decade later, Mathes Brierre remains a trusted name in the revitalization of New Orleans. The firm has added a lengthy list of private and public clients to its broad portfolio.
In 2004, Mathes Brierre was hired to design the 411,000-square-foot, $100 million National Headquarters for the U.S. Marine Forces Reserve at the Naval Support Facility in New Orleans — a big hub of local military activity. “This was a phenomenal project,” says Ed.
Hurricane Katrina had eliminated a year from the project’s schedule and Mathes Brierre faced the challenge of designing the building with site-cast concrete tilt-wall technology, something typically associated with rapid warehouse construction. By working closely with the tilt-wall contractor and the general contractor, the architects embraced the system, incorporating brick elements and applied shapes to achieve a composition befitting the Marine Forces Reserves’ importance.
Ongoing work at a national landmark
The National World War II Museum is one of the country’s top museums, situated in New Orleans. Mathes Brierre has played a major role in the design and delivery of architectural components across the seven-building campus. “This project has an interesting story,” says Ed. “The museum held a design competition and a firm from New York City won. They decided to team with us for our local expertise and when Katrina hit, the museum board met and decided we were going to move forward — even though at that time, no one knew what would happen in New Orleans.”
The result of the meeting was a repurposed master plan, kicking off the construction of the Solomon Victory Theater Pavilion, Stage Door Canteen and American Sector Restaurant first. “This had not been the first phase, but the museum decided it was needed to bring revenue,” explains Ed. “Building in this campus-style concept has helped allow for construction to continue as money is raised.”
The 73,000-square-foot Solomon Victory Theater Pavilion is comprised of mostly large-scale precast concrete panels; the Magazine Street façade gives an impression of shields to protect interior spaces. In contrast, the Barksdale Parade Ground façade is more open and lightweight, with extensive glazing and corrugated metal panels. Through a 120-foot screen, the 250-seat 4D Theater offers viewers a fully immersed experience into the story of World War II.
Constructed next was one of the most standout facilities on the campus, the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. At 30,000 square feet and 96 feet tall, the facility is the tallest building on the campus and anchors the surrounding buildings as a dramatic architectural statement. “This pavilion showcases several large artifacts integral to the Allied victory, including a restored Boeing B-17G mounted in the building,” says Ed. Other iconic aircraft and artifacts are featured in the facility. The pavilion features elevated bridges for closer viewing of the aircraft and LED screens to view historical flight footage.
Mathes Brierre has also been involved at the Campaigns of Courage Pavilion, connected to the Solomon Victory Theater Pavilion by a transparent glass bridge. “This facility is really at the core of the museum’s mission: to tell the story of the sacrifice, valor and ultimate triumph of our soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II,” says Ed. The 32,500-square-foot, two-story pavilion showcases the Allies’ strategy for fighting on two or more fronts at the same time. The exhibits explore the major campaigns and battles central to the war.
All in all, Mathes Brierre has been a fixture on this project for more than a decade, breathing life into the historic, one-of-a-kind museum. “The next phase of the project includes the Canopy of Peace and the Liberation Pavilion,” shares Ed. “Currently in design, the Liberation Pavilion will tell the story of not only the consequences of World War II, but the liberation, democracy and freedoms that were gained all told on three levels of exhibit displays, including a 360-degree rotating theater and an interfaith chapel. The other phase is the Hall of Democracy, which will be temporary exhibit space for visiting exhibitors and also serve as a research facility. We’re also currently under construction of a major parking garage on the campus.” When all is said and done the museum should be completed by early 2017. The successes of the museum expansion projects are demonstrative of the intense coordination effort of the entire design team.
With many landmark projects under its belt and currently underway, Mathes Brierre is building on a longstanding name in New Orleans and beyond. To ensure that the company sees continued prosperity, Ed says a succession plan is in place. “We have six younger principals and folks we’re mentoring and helping them move the firm forward for the future,” he says.
A proactive approach to the future and a history as vibrant as the city of New Orleans keep Mathes Brierre Architects going strong and steady.
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