Launch Slideshow

profile: marcel wisznia, aia

profile: marcel wisznia, aia

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    Wisznia Associates

    Wisznia Associates' Union Lofts building features a restored 1927 facade and a sunny rooftop deck.

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    Wisznia Associates

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    Wisznia Associates

    Next up for the firm is the Maritime Building, another adaptive-reuse project in downtown New Orleans.

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    Wisznia Associates

    An in-progress prototype for a floating house demonstrates the firm's commitment to innovative flood-safety solutions.

When people talk about good things happening in downtown New Orleans, the name Marcel Wisznia, AIA, tends to come up. That's because this local architect/developer has completed one of the few projects built there since Hurricane Katrina—The Union Lofts, a mixed-use renovation in the Central Business District. Leasing the ground floor to a bank tenant, Wisznia and his staff converted the second through fourth floors of the former Western Union telegraph operating station into 33 furnished rental apartments with flat-screen TVs, 10-foot to 14-foot ceilings, and a rooftop deck.

Wisznia inherited his penchant for real estate development from his late father, Corpus Christi, Texas, architect and sometime-developer Walter Wisznia. Architecture school at Tulane lured Marcel to New Orleans, where he eventually joined with his father and opened a second branch of Wisznia Associates. Since Katrina, the firm has focused almost exclusively on designing and developing its own projects. Currently, Wisznia is transforming the historic Maritime Building into offices for his firm, ground-floor commercial space, and 105 rental apartments, and he has more adaptive-reuse work on the boards. “We've created a formula that uses tax credits as an equity source, [placing] modern infill in historic buildings,” he explains. “You have to own the building for five years to use the tax credit, so we rent them out for the first five years.”

His enthusiasm for adaptive reuse stems, in part, from the fact that the upper floors of downtown buildings sit safely above Katrina's flood line. But another disaster-planning strategy intrigues him: the idea of housing designed to face flooding, not avoid it. Wisznia Associates' Robert Asistent is working on a prototype for a house with an aluminum-and-steel space frame light enough to float atop stormwaters. With the firm's backing, he's also developing portable emergency housing prototypes. Wisznia clearly accepts one of the central truths of the post-Katrina landscape: For New Orleans to overcome catastrophe, its architects, builders, and developers must think differently than they did before the storm.


rethinking, renewing, rebuilding

special report on rebuilding the gulf coast two years after katrina's devastation.

  • cover story: after the storm

    In this report, we've endeavored to illuminate the good and the bad, the true signs of hope and the harsh realities of its absence. Over and over, Gulf Coast architects emphasize that people around the country need to know what's really going on in this still-devastated but still-compelling area.

     
  • project: cottage industry

    When 170-some New Urbanists convened the Mississippi Renewal Forum in Biloxi, Miss., to brainstorm the Gulf Coast reconstruction, they knew it would be a long row to hoe. Two years and dozens of charrettes later, work is still under way to rewrite planning codes that support thoughtful, mixed-use...

     
  • project: house mates

    Design professionals agree that rebuilding in the Gulf Coast region is frustrating. Despite soaring construction costs and insurance premiums, elusive government funding, and inscrutable building codes—or perhaps because of them—the nonprofit Architecture for Humanity (AFH) launched the Biloxi...

     
  • project: upwardly mobile

    After working in private practice for nine years, architect Michael A. Berk shifted gears in 1990 to become a professor and researcher. His new pursuit ultimately led him to explore affordable and ecologically based factory-built housing in the rural Southeast and Delta regions, where the dynamics...

     
  • profile: wayne troyer, aia

    In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans architect Wayne Troyer, AIA, bounced between friends' houses in Alabama and Louisiana. All the while, he frantically awaited the latest news of his home city. “I e-mailed like crazy ... we were all trying to regain our sanity,” he recalls. When he...

     
  • profile: byron mouton, aia

    Byron Mouton, AIA, never intended to stay in his hometown of New Orleans. He left for graduate school at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., then worked in Europe for a couple of years. On his way to San Francisco for a job interview in 1997, he stopped to see his family in the Crescent City and stayed...