Tag Archives: construction

Nathan Miller

August 6, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nate Miller is changing the world of architecture. It is hard to imagine, looking at the bald, bespectacled 30-something wearing clean, dark jeans and working quietly in a coffee shop.

“I think the business industry and the world of construction is ripe for disruption,” Miller says.

He is disrupting this industry through data mining. The building industry comprises several professions—architects, engineers, construction managers, and more. Creating buildings involves using software for computer-aided design, conceptual modeling, building information, and many other components. While software companies have complete packages for the building industry, the separate industries often prefer one software over another, so an architecture company that designs a building using Revit (Autodesk’s CAD program) may not be able to connect their information with an engineering company that uses Bentley’s Reliability, Availability, and Maintainability program. The result is a lot of time spent translating programs. The software companies aren’t interested in creating translation programs—that’s where Miller and his company, Proving Ground, comes in.

“[The building industry] is shifting into much more integrated practices. Nate’s role is in developing new techniques,” says Jeff Day, professor and director of the architecture program at UNL as well as principal at his own firm, Min | Day.

“A lot of softwares already have connection points built into them. Ways in which, at a programming level, you can begin to access a document, or part of a document, and extract data,” Miller says.

Proving Ground builds tools, often in the form of plug-ins, that tap into those connection points. They customize their products for individual architecture clients based on their needs, such as having a business client with a lean budget or needing access to daylight.

This ability to connect systems is helping to drive the world of design by data. “There are so many ways that one can, whether with data and tech, or fabrication concepts and prefabrication, use data,” Miller says.

Miller discovered this passion by learning. He graduated from UNL with a master’s in architecture in 2007 and began working for NBBJ Design in Los Angeles. As he built a design portfolio, he became interested in how to leverage data to help his own computations and design processes.

His ability to prove this came when he worked as the lead designer on the stadium at Hangzhou Sports Park in China. The shell was created in a series of aesthetically pleasing steel flower petals, which used less steel than a more traditional steel cover. The bowl was created from concrete. The company liked that this progressive design also reduced costs by using 2/3 less steel than a stadium of comparable size.

That progressive project proved to Miller that data-driven design worked well. He began thinking about implementing data-driven design on a wider range of products—just as CASE Inc. in New York, a building information and technology consultancy, called him with a job offer.

Miller wasn’t thinking about the Big Apple. He was thinking about the Big O. He wanted to come home. CASE agreed to let him work from Omaha, and Miller continued learning, and using, data-driven design as director of architecture and engineering solutions.

CASE’s clients at WeWork were also using data-driven research for a specific area of architecture and real estate. They focus on subscription-based co-work environments for startups.

WeWork learned their eight-person conference rooms were frequently booked for groups of four or five people. They researched why people were meeting in smaller groups, and discovered what those people needed—number of electrical outlets, club chairs vs. desk chairs and a table, etc. WeWork then started providing less space for conference rooms and more space for desks.

WeWork acquired CASE in 2015, and Miller, who now discovered he enjoyed consulting and working on the tech side, decided to create Proving Ground.

“I think he has a good sense of where the opportunities are in his practice,” Day says. “He’s more like a tech startup than an architect, so he’s coming at this as an architect, but in a tech way.”

Visit provingground.io for more information.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

A Conversation with Nancy Pridal

May 15, 2017 by

Scott Anderson: What are the biggest changes that the engineering industry will face in the future?

Nancy Pridal: Understanding the implications of tomorrow’s technology on how we do business today is a bit of an unknown. We have to resist the “success as usual” syndrome and continue exploring opportunities in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the internet of things, etc.

Scott Anderson: Can you give me an example?

Nancy Pridal: The distinction between who addresses infrastructure needs are becoming blurred. Tech firms like Amazon, Verizon, Google, and Apple are all jumping into infrastructure issues, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities. They’re actively seeking solutions. These were historically led by engineers. As an industry, we need to be at the table. Understanding and participating in these conversations at the highest level is critical now.

Scott Anderson: So, what is the impact that the engineering industry is experiencing today?

Nancy Pridal: At an educational level, engineering schools are reassessing core curriculum that hasn’t dramatically changed since the ’50s. Current pedagogy is being examined to produce the engineers we need for the future.

Another big issue for the industry is attracting diversity to STEM. While the field of engineering is continually expanding and can provide abundant opportunities for women and minorities in technical and leadership roles, these groups are still greatly underrepresented. The main reason women leave engineering is company culture, so it’s critical that we understand the impact of culture on women in the industry.

To engage youth in our community, Lamp Rynearson has taken a lead role in advocating for the ACE Mentor Program, which encourages high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction. It’s essential for the engineering industry to align its culture and policies so it attracts and develops a diverse group of professionals who will add the most value in this exciting future.

Scott Anderson: Are there any signs of the future impacting the present state of engineering?

Nancy Pridal: From a construction standpoint, we have seen an increase in “stringless paving” that has changed what we provide for construction administration and staking services. Drones and other new technology are already becoming go-to technologies in our field. 

Scott Anderson: So, if engineers are not involved in surveying and other traditional engineering tasks, what roles will they play?

Nancy Pridal: Lamp Rynearson is leading this discussion with peer firms now, to ensure that as a company and as an industry we are keeping pace, if not leading the way, toward future advances in our field. The key for us is to remain nimble and open-minded to anticipate the future needs of the communities we serve.

We must be continuous questioners and continuous learners to serve the continually changing needs of our communities. As engineers, it’s who we are. There’s a book called A Whole New Engineer by David Goldberg and Mark Somerville, which forecasts what it’s going to take for the engineer of the future to advance the places where we live and work.

Nancy Pridal, Lamp Rynearson & Associates senior vice president, is a civil engineer strategist with widespread project and client management, strategic planning, leadership development, and geographic expansion experience. With offices in Nebraska, Colorado, and the Kansas City area, Lamp Rynearson claims a varied and extensive list of civil engineering, landscape architecture, and survey services.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

How Omaha Railroaded Council Bluffs

April 6, 2017 by
Photography by Provided by Union Pacific Museum

Thirteen years before Nebraska achieved statehood in 1867, a group of Council Bluffs businessmen helped establish “Omaha City.” They didn’t view Omaha as a rival to Council Bluffs; rather, they saw Omaha as a prime route for the transcontinental railroad—and a road to riches. Their efforts laid the groundwork for the nation’s most ambitious construction project, while forever forging a unique bond between the two cities and Union Pacific.

The saga begins in the 1850s, when Dr. Thomas Clark Durant and Henry Farnam partner to construct a rail extension across Iowa, called the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad. They subsequently commission Grenville M. Dodge to explore possible routes for a transcontinental railroad between the Missouri River and Salt Lake Valley.

 It’s a difficult decade for Omaha—a bank panic in 1857 wipes out investors, and the city’s population declines. Then, the Civil War ignites in 1861. Desperate to unite the country east to west, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862. It OKs land grants to attract private capital for construction and authorizes UP’s origin at a point on Iowa’s western boundary, to be approved by the president.

Motivated by his large interest in the M&M, Durant is determined to link his Iowa rail extension with the transcontinental initiative, says Patricia LaBounty, collections manager at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. By Oct. 30, 1863, Durant is elected UP’s director and vice president, taking nearly complete control of the enterprise. He appoints Peter A. Dey as UP’s chief engineer (Dey had surveyed the M&M with Dodge) to further explore four possible connections alongside the Missouri River, including Omaha and Bellevue.

Durant lobbies Lincoln, who’s also inundated with requests to fix the origin at locations stretching from Sioux City, Iowa, to Kansas City. Judge John P. Usher, Secretary of the Interior in Lincoln’s cabinet, recalls Durant’s advice: “Now, the natural place for this terminal point is at the mouth of the Platte River, but Omaha is the principal town in Nebraska; the wealth of the territory is there, and the energies of the people radiate from there, and I think they ought to be considered, and the best thing is to start it from Omaha.”

After consulting with Dodge, on Nov. 17, 1863, President Lincoln writes his first executive order on the subject. To ensure the railroad builds a continuous rail line and bridge surmounting the Missouri River, he sets the starting point on the Iowa side, across from Omaha. But his language is somewhat ambiguous, and Durant seizes the opportunity to plan an elaborate ground-breaking ceremony—in Omaha.

Held in early December 1863, near the ferry landing at Seventh and Davenport streets, and featuring bands, cannons, and fireworks, the event attracts throngs of citizens. Writes David Bristow in A Dirty, Wicked Town: Tales of 19th Century Omaha: “And so it was an act of great faith—right there in the middle of a bloody civil war—to begin the most ambitious and expensive building project the country had ever attempted. It began in Omaha—it was a day, as the Omaha Nebraskian put it, ‘to thank God and take courage.’”

On March 7, 1864, Lincoln pens a second, more formal executive order, again specifying the origin on Iowa’s boundary opposite Omaha. Construction languishes due to lack of financing during the war, so a second Congressional Act on July 2, 1864, creates additional land grant incentives. A map detailing the railroad’s first 100 miles west from Omaha is filed with the Interior Department later that year, which President Lincoln approves.

And then, amazingly, Durant flip-flops. Despite two presidential orders, the UP Board of Directors’ approval of the Omaha route and his initial support, he changes his mind. A new consulting engineer, Silas Seymour, has identified steep grades surrounding Omaha, so he and Durant seek to move the origination point to Bellevue.

“Just like Omaha, Bellevue has already authorized land grants to UP, provided it begin the railroad there,” LaBounty says, “and Durant continues playing both sides of the fence. By May 1865, he requests surveys on the Missouri-Bellevue route and the best location for mechanical shops at Bellevue or Fremont.”

Omahans are outraged. The anger is apparent in telegrams exchanged between Durant and Edward Creighton, president of First National Bank and founder of the university that bears his name. Due to the reroute, Durant says no buildings are needed in Omaha. He’s had “enough of interference” and threatens to “make application to the President to change the terminus.” Responds Creighton: “Omaha must be the only point of connection with the Missouri River. Without this, there will be trouble.”

The issue is resolved Sept. 23, 1865, when President Andrew Johnson approves an amended location in Omaha that addresses the grades through a circuitous route, and construction to the west finally begins. But the drama doesn’t end there.

Given Lincoln’s presidential orders, it was assumed the Missouri River bridge would be constructed between Council Bluffs and Omaha. But UP’s board of directors rumors otherwise. In March 1868, a prominent Omaha delegation, including Nebraska Gov. Alvin Saunders, businessman Ezra Millard, and Omaha Herald publisher Dr. George L. Miller travel to UP’s New York City corporate office to settle the issue. They are appalled, writes Bristol, when Dodge announces the board has selected Bellevue. Using a tried-and-true strategy, Omaha and Council Bluffs unite to offer the railroad land, rights-of-ways and money. The railroad accepts, and the $2.5 million iron bridge is completed in 1872.

Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court settles the argument over the railroad’s origin point, establishing Milepost 0 in Council Bluffs. Both cities become transportation and business hubs, with a major rail yard and passenger transfer hotel in Council Bluffs, and Omaha home to UP’s operational headquarters and mechanical shops. Today the bond continues, with more than 4,000 Union Pacific employees in Omaha and Council Bluffs proudly serving the state and the nation.

Although Union Pacific is headquartered in downtown Omaha, the Union Pacific Railroad Museum is located in Council Bluffs. Visit uprrmuseum.org for more information about the railroad’s history.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Destinations

February 22, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Horse stalls went bye-bye long ago. Now, Aksarben Village is losing car stalls, too. But that’s a good thing, as far as continued growth of the former horse-racing grounds goes. Dirt is overturned and heavy equipment sits on the plot extending north and east from 67th and Frances streets, formerly a parking lot for visitors to the bustling area. That’s because work has commenced at the corner on what will become HDR’s new global headquarters, which opens some time in 2019. The temporary loss of parking will be offset by great gain for Aksarben Village — a 10-story home for nearly 1,200 employees with a first floor including 18,000 square feet of retail space. HDR also is building an adjacent parking garage with room for ground-level shops and restaurants. But wait, car owners, there’s more. Farther up 67th Street, near Pacific, the University of Nebraska-Omaha is building a garage that should be completed this fall. Plenty of parking for plenty to do.

BENSON

A continental shift has taken place in Benson — Espana is out and Au Courant Regional Kitchen is in, offering Benson denizens another food option at 6064 Maple St. That means a move from now-closed Espana’s Spanish fare to now-open Au Courant’s “approachable European-influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients.” Sound tasty? Give your tastebuds an eye-tease with the menu at aucourantrestaurant.com. Also new in B-Town: Parlour 1887 (parlour1887.com) has finished an expansion first announced in 2015 that has doubled the hair salon’s original footprint. That’s a big to-do at the place of  ’dos.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The newest Blackstone District restaurant, which takes its name from Nebraska’s state bird, is ready to fly. Stirnella Bar & Kitchen, located at 3814 Farnam St., was preparing to be open by Valentine’s Day. By mid-January it had debuted staff uniforms, photos of its decor, and a preview of its delectable-looking dinner menu. Stirnella (Nebraska’s meadowlark is part of the genus and species “Sturnella neglecta”) will offer a hybrid of bistro and gastro pub fare “that serves refined comfort food with global influences,” plus a seasonal menu inspired by local ingredients. Fly to stirnella.com for more.

DUNDEE

Film Streams (filmstreams.org) made a splash in January announcing details on its renovation of the  historic Dundee Theater. Work began in 2017’s first month on features including:

Repair and renovation of the original theater auditorium, which will be equipped with the latest projection and sound technology able to screen films in a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel 35mm and DCP presentations.

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

An entryway that opens to a landscaped patio/pocket park.

New ticketing and concessions counters.

A store with film books, Blu-ray Discs and other cinema-related offerings.

A café run through a yet-to-be-announced partnership.

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

Oh, yeah, they’ll show movies there, too. And Dundee-ers won’t have long to wait—the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

MIDTOWN

In a surprise to many—especially those holding its apparently now-defunct gift cards—Brix shut its doors in January at both its Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe locations. It was not clear at press time what factor, if any, was played by a former Brix employee, who in late December pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception after being accused of stealing more than $110,000 as part of a gift card scheme. Despite the closing, Midtown has celebrated two additions of late as the doors opened to the “Japanese Americana street food” spot Ugly Duck (3201 Farnam St.) and to Persian rug “pop-up shop” The Importer.

NORTH OMAHA

The restoration of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake area continues its spectacular trajectory. In January, the Union for Contemporary Art moved into the completely renovated, historic Blue Lion building located at 2423 N. 24th St. The Blue Lion building is a cornerstone in the historic district. Originally constructed in 1913, the Blue Lion is named after two of the building’s earliest tenants: McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub that attracted many nationally known black musicians, and Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor. The entire district was listed as a federally recognized historic district in April 2016.

According to its website, “The Union for Contemporary Art is committed to strengthening the creative culture of the greater Omaha area by providing direct support to local artists and increasing the visibility of contemporary art forms in the community.” Founder and executive director Brigitte McQueen Shew says the Union strives to unite artists and the community to inspire positive social change in North Omaha. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts can be a vehicle for social justice and greater civic engagement,” she says. “We strive to utilize the arts as a bridge to connect our diverse community in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The Union will be hosting the annual Omaha Zinefest March 11. Event organizer Andrea Kszystyniak says Zinefest is a celebration of independent publishing in Nebraska. Assorted zines—essentially DIY magazines produced by hand and/or photocopier—will be on display at the free event, and workshops will be offered to attendees.

OLD MARKET

M’s Pub fans had plenty to be thankful for in November following the announcement that the Old Market restaurant would rise from the ashes of the January 2016 fire that destroyed the iconic eatery. Various media quoted co-owner Ann Mellen saying the restaurant would reopen this summer. Construction has been steady at the restaurant’s 11th and Howard, four-story building, but customers weren’t sure M’s would be part of the rebirth until Mellen’s well-received comments. Mellen says the feel—and the food—will be the same. Even if the name may change.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Colorado Modern

January 22, 2017 by
Photography by Tom Kessler, Kessler Photography

How do two people, each with an appreciation for very different tastes in design, come together to build their perfect dream home?

When our client came to us, the husband leaned more towards a contemporary, midcentury modern look, while the wife loved a Colorado-inspired design. We knew the challenge of marrying these two concepts would be great. But the final product would be even greater.

Lisa Cooper, Allied ASID, and Kris Patton, ASID, feel there is no higher compliment than to obtain new clients by referral from a previous client’s friends and family. This new home construction project was no exception. In order to realize the clients’ multipart vision, we teamed with Marshall Wallman, vice president of design at Curt Hofer & Associates, and his team to create this dream home.

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Our clients enjoy the topography and ambience of Colorado and the architecture of that region. They also like things a bit more contemporary, so we tried to meld together a vintage Colorado midcentury modern look for their new home. While the home itself was meticulously planned to achieve this design, the lot the family selected was just as important. A space with abundant trees would set the perfect tone for a woodsy, private residence.

The home’s curb appeal sets the tone for the design elements that wait inside. The entrance—with its vast windows and incredible sightline from the workspace all the way to the dining room—makes a strong introductory statement.

Main and lower levels of the home feature similarly strong design conceptualization in the fireplaces. They aren’t located on exterior walls, as fireplaces typically are; rather, the hearths are positioned in the centers of the rooms (to be more architecturally integrated into the spaces). Carefully placed windows allow for ample natural light to pierce the space. Not having a fireplace in a traditional placement, flanked by windows, adds interest.

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Powder rooms on each level also provide an opportunity to get creative, and they incorporate high-end elements such as a stainless steel vessel sink, which perforates a quartzite countertop, and walls tiled in a 3D relief.

A color palette of natural tones with blackened steel blue, fern green, aged ore, slate gray, and metallic burnt merlot creates an ambience that possesses an elusive balance between vintage and modern appeal. We relied upon myriad materials to achieve the design our clients desired. Natural stone, used in both the exterior and interior of the home, gives a rugged, earthy feel. A mix of concrete, weathered and reclaimed woods, organic natural stone surfaces, and quartz work symbiotically. Wood ceiling details, a kitchen backsplash fashioned of fern gray subway tiles with a vintage pattern, and handcrafted wall coverings all add to the unique flavor of this home.

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Perhaps one of the most striking elements of the home’s design scheme is the incredible use of light fixtures as art pieces. In an effort to avoid a predictable sea of sameness, we used a multitude of finishes from bronze to antique brass, to polished nickel, creating an acquired look in which each piece can be outstanding.

People oftentimes look at lighting as functional, and they forget that light fixtures can be beautiful, artistic pieces in the home. For this project, we used sconces in the hall to transform industrial design into artful sophistication. The dining room fixture is a chandelier crafted of Cupertino wrought-iron branches, each supporting a delicate chain adorned with a single crystal bead. The entry pendants are made of distressed mercury glass, dressed in antique brass chainmail. And the nursery fixture is feminine and fresh, suggesting a vintage flower design with its glass petals and chrome detailing.

The challenge of melding our clients’ appreciation of contrasting aesthetics of design proved to be a thought-provoking opportunity to create a true standout of a project… and their enthusiasm encouraged our efforts. They seemed to truly enjoy the process, expressing energetic and positive feedback on every aspect of their new home construction. The end result was a dream home with a cohesive design and a unique look…and two very happy homeowners.

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This article was printed in the January/February 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Visit asid-neia.org for more information.

MEET THE DESIGNERS

Cooper

Lisa Cooper

The interior design industry is fast-moving, challenging, and multifaceted.  I love that I have the opportunity to be creative and technical, all in a day’s work. Our clients are amazing people, and the projects that I’ve had the chance to work on have been extraordinary.

Patton

Kris Patton

Design is my passion, and to have the opportunity to receive an education and the experience it takes to gain knowledge and expertise in this industry is such a privilege. I have amazing clients and have had the chance to work on incredible projects.  I wouldn’t trade this career for the world!

 

Emily Andersen & Geoff DeOld

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Emily Andersen and Geoff DeOld’s two-story storefront/residence on Vinton Street is an ongoing study in public and private space.

The husband and wife duo of DeOld Andersen Architecture began their courtship in Nebraska while studying architecture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. They completed their postgraduate degrees in 2001 and moved to New York City that same year—a week before September 11.

deolds4While living in New York, they each worked at architecture firms, and in 2010, they began developing their own architectural practice. Their theoretical interests focused on ideas of suburbia, big box stores as civic centers, and the concept of “Walmart as a city.” New York City, while full of inspiration, was not an ideal location to study these topics.

“New York is a highly constructed place, a place where every block has been theorized and studied,” says DeOld.

In 2012, Andersen and DeOld began working with Emerging Terrain and its founder, Anne Trumble, on projects in Omaha. Seeing the progressive and critical dialogues fostered by Emerging Terrain made the idea of leaving New York an easier decision. For them, rogue conversations about urban relations could take place in Omaha. Additionally, Omaha provided a lower cost of living, making it possible to own a domestic space with a private outdoor area complete with a dog.

After deciding to relocate to Omaha in 2012, Andersen and DeOld began sharing a rented office space with Emerging Terrain on Vinton Street. One day, Trumble took her design fellows on a research trip, and the couple was able to be alone in the space in its totality. They thought, “This could be a great apartment!”

As it happened, their intuition became reality. The architects now fully occupy both floors of the storefront, their live-work architecture studio and private apartment with an exterior courtyard at 1717 Vinton St.

Willa, their spunky dog, acts as a doorbell, announcing visitors and clients. She is usually perched at the large bay windows on Vinton Street, sitting in the crisp northwest light. This same light blankets a curated selection of furniture and cascades upward to the original tin ceiling tiles. Andersen acknowledges, “The best thing (about the storefront) is the light.”

deolds5Immediately inside the voluminous white studio, large flat tables are stacked with the latest architecture periodicals and design paraphernalia. A well-stocked bookcase of architecture monographs separates this front entry space from the open office behind. Each workstation, for the couple and their intern architects, is decorated with an iMac, a tornado of tracing paper, physical architectural models, and their subsequent renderings and construction documents. The fervor of design-in-the-making is palpable. At the rear, more windows fill the functional office with warm southern light and views into an in-process patioscape.

There is an aspect of sustainability that they enjoy living above their office—the morning and evening commute is literally a flight of stairs. A cerulean stairwell ascends into their private apartment above the storefront’s 12-foot ceiling. The hike establishes mental and spatial distance between work and home. “Once we go upstairs for the evening, we usually do not go back down,” says DeOld.

Upon entering the 1,200-square-foot apartment, a sense of the couple’s studied aesthetic is at the forefront. Remnants of their lives punctuate the space. There’s a silver metallic curtain in an ultra-simplistic kitchen and an almost haphazard collection of modernist furniture. Space-defining arches give the apartment “a weird personality we would have never added,” says Andersen.

deolds2Populating the airy apartment is a long blonde wood table adjacent to a glossy white fireplace, which splits the kitchen from the living room. A set of graphic prints pulls the eye into the living room, where a complementary mustard-colored chair and merlot-colored sofa face a wraparound bookshelf. It is also from the living room that the angular nature of Vinton Street is most apparent. Two windows bounce northwestern light onto the wooden floors. As with the studio below, Andersen explains, “Watching the light daily and yearly is one of the joys of the apartment.”

Renovations have been ongoing throughout the entire structure, with Andersen and DeOld first focusing on the envelope of the building, then the workspace below, and now concentrating on the apartment and exterior courtyard.

At first, much of the apartment did not work. But after rapid construction and precise wall removal, the once-segmented apartment has been opened into one clean volume for public entertaining areas and compact private spaces.

“We can’t live in a typical house,” say Andersen and DeOld. Their nearly complete live-work space mixes ephemerality with distinct design features, a continuing investigation into their notions of hybrid domestic-work tranquility.

Visit d-aarch.com for more information. OmahaHome

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Omaha’s Growing Landscape

April 3, 2014 by
Photography by Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

Omaha is undergoing a bit of a hotel boom, with a dozen new hotel properties under construction or in the pipeline, including the new $27 million Hyatt Place which opened in Omaha’s Old Market entertainment district. Also in the works is a new 330-room convention hotel, which will be built across from CenturyLink Center Omaha, the city’s 250,000-square-foot convention center.

Hilton Omaha completed a $35 million expansion and renovation project and now offers 600 rooms, a 7,000-square-foot ballroom, and completely renovated meeting rooms.

The Doubletree Hotel Downtown completed a $20 million renovation and formed a “green team” to develop innovative and environmentally friendly features. The hotel now offers a bicycle checkout station in its lobby so visitors can save on fuel and pedal to nearby restaurants and shops.

Omaha’s riverfront is also changing with the addition of the Storz Trophy Room. The historic Omaha brewery revived its brand, opening a restaurant with plans to add a micro brewery at the same location. The new entertainment venue sits right along Omaha’s riverfront and within a block of the convention center, creating another great place for visitors and convention delegates to enjoy.

This all points to a city on the move, which is good news. One cautionary note: Omaha has experienced a 42 percent growth in the number of hotel rooms over the last 10 years. Demand over that same period has grown 25 percent. While demand—the number of people visiting the city—is growing at a healthy pace, the supply of new hotel rooms is growing even faster. As we look to the future, creating new ways to attract even more visitors to Omaha and filling these new hotel rooms will be an important factor in our city’s success as a destination.

Questions or comments? E-mail us at info@visitomaha.com.

Dana Markel, Executive Director

Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

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The Art of Architecture

December 27, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When asked about the design principles behind his contemporary, DIY home, Joel Holm employs a more-than-pregnant pause. Finally collecting his thoughts, he borrows—intentionally or otherwise—from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

“The idea,” he says, “was to do…something completely different.”

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But there is so much more than “something completely different”—as dramatic as it is in this case—about the plot of land just a few doors south of Leavenworth on 52nd Street. The home, which he shares with his wife, Melissa, and their three children, is something of a forever-in-progress DIY project for Holm. He built most of it himself. More than just a basement workshop tinkerer with a table saw and tool belt, Holm is a remodeler whose H Aesthetics business recently merged with Workshop Unknown.

The design vision for the home and everything that followed became for the Holms an exercise in 
simple living.

“I’ve often thought about why we use this material instead of that material in homebuilding,” Joel explains, “especially when it would be cheaper, friendlier to the environment, and would last a heck of a lot longer if we used what we normally think of as industrial materials—and used them in new ways.”

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Square Hardie Board panels form a blocky geometrical array on the home’s exterior. Affixed with rivets that are proudly left visible and with the material’s aquamarine hue, the home almost takes on the vibe of a vintage seafaring vessel, that of an algae-encrusted steamer or battleship. Abutting those lines and introducing a contrasting motif is corrugated, recycled roofing material in red. The material’s striated ridges disrupt the cube theme that could otherwise dominate the façade. Adding to the industrial look are heated cement floors, commercial windows, and a CMU, cinder block-style 
block foundation.

Reclaimed strips of acrylic ingeniously incorporated into the pivoting front door create a dramatic, twice-daily light show. Viewed from inside the home, the morning sun streams through the door’s acrylic insets. At night and from curbside, the home’s interior lighting hits the slats in reverse fashion. The overall effect is that of electrified neon, and it takes closer examination to discern that there is nothing more at play here than beams of filtered light.

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A passerby’s first impression may be that the boxy, 3,500 square-foot home is a volcano of “contemporary” erupting in the brick-clad charm of the surrounding Elmwood Park neighborhood. But take a step back for a wider view, and you’ll notice that the Bauhaus-ish lines of the home subtly mirror those of the Prairie-esque ones of the property next door to the south.

“We didn’t have any particular architectural influence in mind with the design of this home. When I think of what we did here, it is that this is a just a better way to build a house,” he says of the home that was showcased in the 2011 Green Omaha Coalition Tour.

“Too many homes, to us, look alike,” adds Melissa. “After awhile, traditional homes built with traditional materials all tend to be 
the same.”

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The master bedroom suite is located on the main level while the kids’ bedrooms occupy the upper level. Instead of a standard hallway in a home where nothing standard is to be expected, the children’s bedrooms are connected by a wide concourse that acts as a play and study area all their own. Oversized sliding bedroom doors provide alone time in this most open and airy of settings.

“Having it be a very open space was important to us,” says Melissa. “It’s a lot of house, especially when compared to where we came from [only blocks away]. Our previous home was very quaint and charming, but it was cut up into too many individual rooms. When company came or when we had parties in the old house, it was always that awkward sort of arrangement where four people would have to be seated in another room and then a few more would be tucked around the corner from there.”

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Initial construction of the home designed in collaboration with architect Eddy Santamaria of Contrivium Design + Urbanism spanned almost two years.

A walking club made up of seniors from Elmwood Tower, a nearby independent living facility, peppered Joel with questions almost daily as work progressed. “I could have talked to them all day about what we were building,” he quips. “I’m sure I lost a month in the construction process talking to them.”

“And we were both surprised how much most of them liked it,” Melissa adds. “We had thought that older folks might not get it—might not get what we were doing—because even a lot of younger people don’t get it. People either love it,” she says with a shrug, “or hate it.”

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Such major additional projects as a fireplace are planned as time allows sandwiched in between a busy schedule of school and other activities for daughters Avery (7) and Kinley (15) and son Kaleb (12).

The Holms are also thinking about getting around to doing something with a pair of “doors to nowhere,” ones  that will eventually lead to a yet-to-be-built deck in one case and balcony in the other.

Mirroring the contours of a softly sloping lot, the home has six distinct levels plus a basement. To travel from the mudroom at the rear of the house to the front door, for example, it is a gradual one-two-three ascent of gently rising levels. In between, the space is full of subtleties that serve to break up the right angles that are otherwise everywhere to be found. A mini-flight of steps leading from the living room down to the kitchen area, for example, is sliced into a wedge configuration. The continuity of the open living room/kitchen space is never completely severed, Joel explains, but is instead merely interrupted in a way that delivers a sense of “roomness” between the two.

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The centerpiece of the kitchen is a custom table crafted by Workshop Unknown. Its acrylic surface and arcing, birch-laminated legs complement the acrylic and birch found elsewhere throughout the home.

“It’s such a simple and elegant wood,” Joel says of the birch, “and it’s a lot cheaper than many of your other choices.”

Expansive walls of glass in the main living area make for wide-open vistas but took some getting used to, Melissa says, especially when the family first moved in.

“We had people showing up outside and cupping their hands against the glass to get a look inside,” she chuckles. “They must have assumed it was a dentist’s office or something like that because our home is so different from everything else around here. I’d be reading a book or watching TV, and I’d catch some movement out of the corner of my eye, and there’d by some guy making nose prints on my windows!”

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If the home was in any danger of feeling cold or sterile, works by area artists and beyond lend a warm and vibrant touch in a color palette grounded in organic ochres.

“That was also an important driving force in planning our home,” says Joel. “We knew we wanted a place where we could display a lot of art, some of it on a pretty large scale.”

Everything about the lines, forms, and spatial composition of the Holms’ place suggest an acute attention to the art of architecture and the architecture of art.

“We do consider the house a work of art,” Joel explains as Melissa nods in agreement. “It’s something of a living sculpture but a very functional one for our family.”

Apartment Construction

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, Thom Neese, and Malone & Co.

When it comes to looking for the perfect apartment, bigger is not always better…or affordable. And with the main demographic of apartment dwellers in Omaha being Generation Y—those ranging in age from 22 to 27 years-old—they are making their feelings known and developers are listening.

Christian Christensen, owner of Bluestone Development, has been working in commercial real estate for nearly two decades and owns several apartment buildings, including The 9ines and Joslyn Lofts. He knows intimately the wants and needs of those looking for their next space to live.

Christian Christensen, owner of Bluestone Development.

Christian Christensen, owner of Bluestone Development.

“We have done condos, townhomes, row homes, historic renovations…” says Christensen, “but our focus right now is on apartments…all urban. Part of that is due to the market and part of it is due to our passion for apartments.” While the Old Market has been for years the go-to location for urban living, Christensen says that things are changing, especially with the development of Midtown Crossing. “Basically, anything east of I-680 are projects that we look at.”

With his primary customers being Generation Y, Christensen says that price is a big concern. “To make [these spaces] affordable, you’ve got to work hard on floor plans.” He explains that most developers today are designing smaller floor plans because, not only are they more reasonably priced, but “people are heading toward a no-waste type of living.”

“When you look at how homes were developed 15 years ago, you really only utilize 60 percent of your home on a daily basis. The other 40 percent you’re paying for, but not really utilizing it. It’s the same thing with apartments.”

Combine this with the fact that fewer people are living with roommates, these highly sought-after urban apartments are becoming more accessible to people who, a few years ago, could only dream of living in these locations.31273_0279_Web

Jerry Banks, portfolio director of real estate for NewStreet Properties, LLC, also works with developing and remodeling apartments, as well as retail and office spaces. The Omaha-based company owns properties all over the country, including Tiburon View and Huntington Park Apartments in Omaha,. While NewStreet does not develop urban locations and his tenants tend to range from 20- and 30-somethings to empty nesters, Banks says that his tenants are also looking for scaled-down floor plans. “We’re seeing more and more trends toward smaller units, both in studios and one bedrooms.”

Safety and security is another big focus of his tenants, says Banks. “That’s always been and will continue to be a very important renter requirement…very high on the list.”

To meet the demands of his residents, Banks says that NewStreet has been actively addressing a variety of security concerns, including changing all exterior lighting to brighter, more efficient LED bulbs, as well as implementing new, fully automated locks for all their apartments.

Banks refers to the possible security breach of buildings that have master keys or by former residents who may have had copies of keys made in the past. “None of our apartments have a master key of any type…we’ve de-mastered 100 percent of all the locks on all of our properties.” Each key is also tracked by a bar code, allowing the property owner to know who has borrowed a key and when that key was returned.31294_0219_Web

“We put a real emphasis on safety and security for our residents,” says Banks. “These are just some things that most residents don’t see and think about but just take for granted.”

Both Christensen and Banks say that their tenants are looking for convenience and ways to make their lives easier. Fitness facilities, both indoor and outdoor, as well as pet-friendly spaces and amenities, fire pits, and plenty of grilling areas for entertaining are options that NewStreet is providing to their residents.

Bluestone is exploring the options of adding a hot yoga studio, as well as the possibility of shared gaming rooms and a community kitchen that may provide cooking lessons and opportunities for socializing.

Both Christensen and Banks say that customer service is their main priority. “Going forward, everyone is going to have to look at their operation and see how they can deliver outrageous service,” says Christensen. “Because that’s what our customers get when they go to other places. They go to Starbucks…they go to Urban Outfitters…they get outrageous service. They can expect that service where they live.”

Educational Building Design

Photography by DLR Group

School buildings have come a long way from the stately, institutional structures of yesteryear. Today’s newest K-12 environments echo some of the best elements of commercial and residential design trends, say representatives of integrated design firm DLR Group.

“What we really see as far as trends are a lot of renovations, a lot of energy retrofits, and a big push for security measures as well,” says architect and DLR Group principal Pat Phelan, K-12 sector leader.Marysville-Getchell-High-School-Campus_Web

While established structures in longstanding neighborhoods undergo renovation and expansion, most of the new construction has been in elementary schools, says architect and DLR Group principal Mark Brim, K-12 designer. He adds that it’s a matter of numbers related to how school districts are structured, explaining that “for every high school you build, you’re going to be building three, maybe four, elementary schools and maybe two middle schools.”

One lesson learned from the past is planning for future expansion during new construction and major renovation, Phelan says. “With some of the older buildings that weren’t designed for expansion, those present some unique challenges, obviously.”

Brim adds: “We’ve had the opportunity to work with the rapidly growing districts here in the metro area. In those cases, the new buildings we were involved with, we did master-plan those to expand as enrollment increases.”IMG_8674_Web

District residents also have a vested interest in their school buildings, and today’s schools include spaces that can be adapted to serve the community for activities from public meetings to presentations and receptions. Of course, durability is also a consideration when it comes to school buildings with a life expectancy of 75 years or more.

“It’s selecting the right yarn type so the carpet will hold up, or high performance paint,” explains Melissa Spearman, DLR Group senior associate and interior designer leader.Creighton-Preparatory-School_Web

“A school is going to have a lot of traffic. It may not have a lot of money to fund a lot of maintenance,” Brim adds. “Energy efficiency is always a concern, but also sustainability with the push for green architecture, and not only on the energy side but also with use of more environmentally friendly materials and recycled materials.”

Spearman says function now drives form when school interiors are planned.

“We’re seeing how the teachers interact with the students or how the students can work in small groups, how different collaboration zones are set up, or how maybe they’re studying in common spaces and those are becoming more gathering spaces,” she says.Joplin-11th-&-12th-Grade-Interim-Campus_Web

“We’re really focusing more on the learning environment overall,” Phelan agrees. “That involves bringing natural light into as many spaces as we can, it means comfortable climate, it means transparency so students are more engaged in what’s going on in different spaces.”

Phelan explains that engagement elements range from wi-fi to adding more display areas for student works to considering environmental features evocative of where students naturally congregate, like the comfortable, portable seating in malls or coffee shops.

“We think that research supports the fact that the learning environment has an impact on the performance of students in the classroom. As a result, DLR Group has become the number-one K-12 firm in the country,” Phelan says. “That’s something that we take a lot of pride in, and we don’t rest on that; we know we have to continue to always look to the future, look to innovate, and listen to our clients.”