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Fostering Economic Development in Baton Rouge

A BRAC & WHLC Partnership


In the 1950s, the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce raised funds in the community to construct an office at the intersection of Laurel Street and Sixth Street in downtown Baton Rouge.  The building was designed to serve as a regional marketing resource, promote local commerce, and connect the business community.  

Original fundraising brochure
Original conference room
Original building lobby

The original building was modern for its time with clean lines and open spaces.

After fifty years and several renovations, the building was in need of a major overhaul. Previous renovations included the staining of the light wood services with a much darker stain, adding carpet flooring, the addition of dark windows and several internal walls, and red linoleum.

The all glass curtain wall, added in the 1970s, closed off the building. The tint and reflectivity of the glass precluded transparency and reflected the surrounding buildings which created an ill-defined façade that either faded into the background or read as a solid impermeable mass.

BRAC building in 2015
BRAC lobby in 2015
BRAC lobby in 2015

The organization rebranded in 2005 to become the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the lead economic development group for the nine-parish Baton Rouge Area.  BRAC works collaboratively with parish economic development partners throughout the region to grow jobs and wealth in the area.  In 2016, the building was in such poor condition and so out of line with the organization's mission that BRAC considered selling and demolishing the building, both of which would have abandoned the building’s original and historical use.

Through a selection process, WHLC was chosen to be the architect for the project and establish a new home for the organization. The overall vision for the building was a modern, light-filled office and conference center reminiscent of the original design. The goal was to create a space that provided an inspiring and creative environment for the staff and visitors, as well as an impressive meeting space in the existing building footprint. The challenge was to create this atmosphere in a building constructed in the 1950s with several subsequent renovations that left the space dark, enclosed, and outdated while staying within the non-profit's budget.

Before the project could proceed, the total construction cost had to be finalized, the board of directors had to approve the project, and fundraising had to begin.  WHLC worked closely with BRAC on all of these efforts including close coordination with the selected contractor, Milton J. Womack, by attending Building Committee meetings, attending meetings of the Board of Directors, and preparing renderings and animation to communicate the vision in detail.

Exterior rendering
Lobby rendering
Work space rendering

The WHLC design team applied several techniques to reconnect the building with the streetscape/community and uncover/update the modern, progressive design. Clear, floor-to-ceiling windows now provide ample natural light. A repurposed parking lot adds square footage, an additional entry, and strengthens the presence. An exposed ceiling adds height. Thoughtful integration of technology and AV equipment communicates innovation.

The 1970s-era reflective glass cladding was removed to uncover and enhance the original 1950s façade.  Threshold spaces, defined by floating planes, landscaping, and a dynamic rhythm of thin metal columns, add depth and gradation to the streetscape transition into the building’s interior.

BRAC exterior in 2018

Applying thematic architectural details to what was a parking area and rear entrance adds depth to the building, further develops the connection to the streetscape, and provides the additional space needed. The side courtyard serves as an outdoor space for employees while also functioning as a direct entry to the conference space. The organization’s signature blue is used on the exterior walls.

The Lamar Courtyard

The new lobby sets the tone for the new space. Concrete floors and carefully selected furnishings create a modern setting. The integration of wood finishes adds texture. The exposed structure, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing adds height and contributes to the setting. A large audio visual screen was strategically placed in the lobby to be clearly visible from the street, reinforcing the innovative brand and connecting the interior to the exterior.

Lobby featuring The Manship Family display

An original round, two-story conference room located in the middle of the building was removed to create a spacious atrium that enables open communication, dynamic collaboration and business transparency.

Open space was sized for the future growth of workstations, a key objective of the building owner.  The need for private offices for senior level staff and “phone booths” for those seeking periods of privacy are achieved through sliding glass doors. These maintain full natural light.

Staff collaborative areas and workstations

By repurposing the parking lot into interior space, a 100-occupant Conference Room was created to serve the needs of both employees and board members, while providing event space for the community.

Flexible furniture with casters and nesting features allows easy reconfiguration of the space to fit the meeting needs of the staff and community.

Bright greens and blues used throughout the space reflect the dynamic organization and region.

The Wampold Board Room

Scale and pattern was re-established in the façade through exposing the original 1950's module of brick and windows accented by dark vertical reveals. A more transparent low-E glass and improved lighting increase the visibility between interior and exterior space.  Bold accent colors, graphics and lighting treatments energize the façade and focus views into the interiors; reestablishing the building as a vibrant component in the fabric of the city streetscape.

The building is once again a contemporary destination for promoting business growth, and a reflection of the entrepreneurial vitality of the region

BRAC & WHLC team members at the Grand Opening (From L to R - WHLC Partner Rex Cabaniss; WHLC Vice President Lauren Hatcher; WHLC Senior Project Architect Angelle Terry; BRAC EVP Michael DiResto; BRAC Operations Manager Jennifer Watson; WHLC Interior Designer Leslie Herpin Marx; BRAC CEO Adam Knapp)

Special thanks to additional team members who contributed on the project: