This article appears in Summer 2015 B2B.
Jeff Day will not apologize for his messy studio.
It was expected it would boast cutting-edge horizontal and vertical features, or perhaps make some sort of interesting artistic statement. Instead, it is rather cold with chipped white walls. But to Day, it is the perfect place to take a client so he or she is right in the mix of things.
His studio is an open, creative space, waiting to be filled, which symbolizes the artistic philosophy of his architectural firm Min|Day. Plus, he loves the way the client can interact with the designers as the process unfolds.
A little bit beautiful and frightening all at the same time. “I like being here,” he says. “I have no energy to find a new place.”
He is a busy guy, to put it mildly. Day can’t even count the number of hours he works each week. Whether it is running Min|Day, directing the architecture program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, or working on his MOD furniture company, Day has a lot of creative balls in the air all at once. Just the way he likes it.
One major project on his untidy design table: the Blue Barn Theater.
Day, ever somber, perks up when discussing the new body that will soon inhabit eager theater-goers. He rarely glances anywhere but at his model encased in glass. Along with partner E.B. Min, who is based out of their San Francisco office, it is their creation and beauty.
“Our strategy was to design a building that can evolve with users,” Day says.
It will include such things as steel that, with time, will look like rusty metal, salvaged timber to adorn walls, and maybe even some artificial turf on the gray roof.
Day graduated from Harvard magna cum laude with an A.B. in visual and environmental studies. He received his master’s in architecture from the University of California-Berkeley.
His art interests led to commissioning four local and regional artists (Chris Kemp, Michael Morgan, Daniel Toberer, and John Woodfill) to develop components of the Blue Barn.
Day likes to steal his ideas from the environment around him. The Blue Barn will include sustainability aspects such as salvaged trees for squares on either side of the aisles in the theater.
Day wanted this to be a creative venture to develop an “open space…to treat it as a test case as a public/private space.” Flexibility, such as creating inside/outside performance areas, was essential.
This will include Green in the City, a simplistic outdoor area in which to produce the cutting-edge work the Blue Barn is known for, or even just a place for the public to hang out. The designs of El Dorado (a Kansas City architectural firm) and Urban Rain Design from Portland were selected out of 60 entries in a national contest sponsored by Omaha by Design to create this community space.
Day believes Omaha has not seen a lot of risk-taking or innovative architecture. Even with a limited budget, he hopes the Blue Barn will appeal to a broader audience.
“It is not mainstream, Pollyanna theater, but edgy and provoking,” states Nancy Mammel, the program director of the Mammel Foundation, which helped fund the project. Blue Barn launched a seven million dollar campaign to raise donations and this fundraising venture will continue even when the building is complete.
Day has been passionate about building since he was young. He recalls one condo project he worked on while he was a high school intern in Maine when he realized something important about the design and construction of buildings.
“The vision isn’t just from a single person, but a collaborative effort,” Day says. Even now, he makes sure this joint effort is a positive experience. Hence, the cluttered office spaces so clients are in the trenches as the designers create.
Day also takes this theory into his classrooms as a professor at UNL. When a young student “gets it and understands what it means to be a designer” is Day’s best part of the day. He realizes it is frustrating and there is not always one right answer for anything.
Day runs FACT—which stands for fabrication and construction team—where students problem-solve real world issues, not just work on hypothetical projects. This even meant visiting a medium-security prison to develop code for a computer-controlled milling machine.
“It is a mixture of humor and fear,” Day says of this actual hands-on approach. He budgets actual projects with student mistakes in mind, but believes it is necessary for students to “figure out how to get this built.”
Day knows the risks of construction, something that makes him nervous because things do not always go exactly as planned.
When a client walks into his studio, Day will draw out real personal discussions with his client. He prefers to make buildings out of experiences rather than style. If he is renovating a barn, Day will see it through the farmer’s eyes and view it as a piece of machinery.
If it is built out of something honest, someone will want it. Just like the studio scattered with work Day has built over the years.