Eskew+Dumez+Ripple enjoys some of the best—and most unlikely—studio space in New Orleans. The firm established its studio on the 31st floor of an office building in 1999. Before that, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple occupied the third floor of a riverfront building on the edge of the French Quarter. The difference between a French Market walk-up and Class A office space is smaller than one might think, says Steve Dumez, FAIA. “We really connected to the street and the activity of the French Quarter. We felt the pulse of the city directly. We heard it. We could smell it,” he says. “We spent a long time looking for a corresponding environment in the French Quarter we could grow into. We’re immediately adjacent to the French Quarter. We’re right next door to all the same culture and restaurants. That was an important consideration.”

Established in 1989, the New Orleans firm now employs 49 people, including seven owners and partners and a group of nine associates. Hurricane Katrina marked a major transformation for the studio, says Allen Eskew, FAIA. “Katrina was a major catalytic event for us,” he says. “We were able to focus on a lot of projects in the recovery.”

From its 31st-floor perch, the studio commands a view of New Orleans and its waterfront. Mark Ripple, AIA, says that the view affords sights of at least a dozen active Eskew+Dumez+Ripple projects. “From this vantage point, we can point to activity we have in almost every neighborhood,” he says. Seeing projects in the context of the city matters, Eskew says. “Our connection to the city increased in the high-rise position.”

Eskew+Dumez+Ripple finished a studio expansion last year—at 4 p.m. on the day the firm was hosting a party for the AIA 2011 National Convention and Design Exposition, which was held in New Orleans. With that out of the way, the partners have no intention of building out again any time soon. “If we were to get larger than this, the question would be not how it affected the studio, but the institutional culture of the firm,” Eskew says.

In 2018, New Orleans will observe its tricentennial birthday, making it one of the nation’s oldest cities. Perhaps uncharacteristically for the city, New Orleans isn’t simply throwing a massive party. Eskew+Dumez+Ripple is working with Mayor Mitch Landrieu to plot out ideas for the occasion, Eskew says—an opportunity to take stock and finish outstanding building projects. “We’re framing the right format to go into the spring of 2018,” he says. More than half of the rebuilding is done, but work remains. “This will help us put a final commemorative marker on Katrina and move forward.”

Eskew, Dumez, and Ripple all look at the tricentennial in different ways:

“The core riverfront is emerging as a major piece of the tricentennial personality,” Eskew says, noting renovations for the Superdome and NBA complex. “The core of our city is going to be in good shape for the tricentennial.”

“When we shift scales—from the storm to the tricentennial—we’re looking at our storm systems,” Ripple says. “It’s brought a much more national visibility to our wetlands erosion and how the wetlands protect our relatively fragile city. We hope six years is enough time to finish the infrastructural improvements marshaled by the Army Corps [of Engineers].”

“Part of what Katrina helped the city to do was hit a reset button and address some intransigent social ills,” Dumez says. “That was reflected in our failing schools and political institutional intransigence toward change. Those who chose to come back were significantly invested in the future city. The civic activism that emerged following the storm has been our greatest reward.”