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The Work is in The Art

Leading architect Wm. Raymond “Ray” Manning showcases the space where his firm has helped rebuild new orleans post-Katrina.

Wm. Raymond “Ray” Manning in his office

Cheryl Gerber

Architect Wm. Raymond “Ray” Manning, FAIA, looks out of the window of his 12th-floor office near Lafayette Square and Gallier Hall and considers New Orleans today – 10 years since Hurricane Katrina. “As the person who spearheaded the Bring New Orleans Back Commission’s Neighborhood Recovery Planning effort and a prime member of the team that developed the New Orleans Master Plan, I believe that New Orleans has seen a number of areas which point not only to its recovery, but to a real emphasis on the nature and quality of life throughout the city,” Manning says.

“I have seen examples of progress in the vibrancy of every neighborhood in New Orleans,” he continues. “From New Orleans East to Uptown, there are infrastructure improvements and a host of private and public buildings which bookmark the recovery and vision of a city which is not just recovering but is on a path to its greatest self.”

Manning has made his mark in New Orleans for more than 30 years. Today he is one of the leading architects in the city; his firm, Manning Architects, employs 30 people, 15 of whom are architects.

“I am proud of the work Manning Architects has done since the storm, including the recent collaboration with Cesar Pelli on the new North Terminal at the airport; the New Orleans East Hospital, along with the local firm Eskew+Dumez+Ripple (EDR) and in association with Baton Rouge firm WHLC; the Convention Center Mixed-Use Neighborhood Plan, also in collaboration with EDR; and working with Waggonner and Ball Architects on the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan, which was recently honored with the National Planning Excellence Award for Environmental Planning from the American Planning Association.

LEFT: Lobby of the 650 Poydras building, home to Manning Architects since 1995;  RIGHT: A display wall features Manning Architects projects.

Located in the heart of the Central Business District at 650 Poydras St., the Manning office is a beehive of activity with major projects in the planning stages, including the Tulane Freeman School of Business expansion and renovation, Poland Avenue Cruise Ship Terminal, and the Dallas–Fort Worth Airport Terminals B and E redevelopment.

Why did Manning select a Downtown location for the company’s office? “When we started our business in 1985, it was just after the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, and I wanted our firm to be Downtown,” he answers. “A family friend had a small office building on Baronne Street, and we moved into that space in the summer of 1985. Then in 1995, we went looking for new space and watched the development of our current location on Poydras Street, between St. Charles and Camp streets, and I thought it was a great location. I had worked on Gallier Hall and was project architect for the development of Lafayette Mall, so this felt like the right place to be.”

When the company originally moved into the space as the first occupants, the layout was a blank slate. “I had the idea to create a plan where light would flood the entire space,” Manning says. “In 2003, as the firm went through a major change in its leadership, the private offices and separation of the principals from the studio where the design collaborations take place was seen as an opportunity to shift the culture of the design studios. At that point, as the sole owner of the firm, I moved into the studio and turned the once executive offices into conference rooms … to allow for constant interaction.”

TOP LEFT: Manning Architects is located on the twelfth floor of the 650 Poydras Building; TOP RIGHT: Resource room BOTTOM LEFT: The open floor plan captures maximum light from the wall of windows; BOTTOM RIGHT:Resource room with extensive laminate samples on display.

 It is somewhat surprising that Manning’s office is not behind closed doors. The amazing 10,000-square-foot space, with its open work stations, encourages creativity. “The display of a variety of graphics; the conference rooms where a group can come in and pin up their work, leave it there and later return, work well for an efficient work climate,” he says “Clients, consultants and vendors can join in these sessions, and projects are developed in a real spirit of collaboration. The work is the art.”

Then he goes on to explain, “The smallest conference room is outfitted with a glass conference room table and sofa. We often use it to have a more relaxed meeting over a cup of tea or coffee. The environment is just another office to allow for fluid and varied communication styles. The entire office is a statement about how we do our business. Clients and consultants have said that the office presents a great first impression. In the end it is the committed and dedicated staff who execute our client’s vision of their projects, who are the real success.

“I have spent a lot of time thinking about what architecture is, how architects work, and how best to create a set of habits around crafting buildings and spaces. In the end, the space we work in is a reflection of that process. Future office designs will expand those ideas further.”



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