Black and Blue in Omaha

December 8, 2015
One would be hard-pressed to find an office quite like Min|Day. Split between the ever-expanding design market of San Francisco and the decidedly quieter Omaha, E.B. Min and Jeffrey L. Day take every project as a chance to explore new design strategies. "We are often trying to change the conversation to not be about architecture as a product," explained Day in a conversation with AN. "We try to make it about a process or experience of space, how it is used." This particular approach attracted the Blue Barn Theatre and Boxcar 10, the clients and namesakes of the office's recent adjoining Omaha projects.

What started as a single project, commissioned as part of the Blue Barn Theatre's 25th anniversary, turned into a second building project for Boxcar 10 and the administering of the Green in the City competition to design a public space on the remainder of the block. With their hands in every aspect of the full city block's development, despite each project having separate clients, Min|Day was able to weave programs and materials into a cohesive, though layered, organization.

For Blue Barn, a proscenium-black box theater hybrid allows for the flexibility needed by the ever-experimenting theater. Much of this flexibility comes from a buffer in the form of the Green in the City Project designed by the competition winners el dorado inc. which can be expanded into and reconfigured as part of the theater when needed.

"The great thing about working with the theater company is they understand the creative process, they are not just buying a product. They have confidence in the process," Day said. Taking a cue from the improvisational nature of their client, Min|Day released some of their own control over the project and flipped the client-architect relationship. "It was a very loose process, we were breaking away from the sole authorship model of architecture." Using some of their design fee, four artists were commissioned to design and build specific elements for the project. A brick vestibule, interior lighting fixtures and furniture, sinks, and the epic backstage door were integrated in the architecture.

The neighboring Boxcar 10 project acts as the mixed-used component to the planned arts hub. A restaurant on the lower level, which continues the material elevation from the neighboring theater, supports a large black mass of three loft apartments. The apartment block shares the size and proportions of the void that is the performance space in the theater: a nod to the massing design process, and the color of the black box from which the form was derived.

It seems only appropriate that an office that describes itself as "one office split between two locations (not a practice with two offices)" would be able to negotiate the complex relationship of a multi-client single location project.

The Architect's Newspaper
By Matthew Messner