Tag Archives: Neil Astle

Neil Astle

September 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It is not often that an Omaha architect is featured in The New York Times and Architectural Digest, but the reputation of Neil Astle is noteworthy for much more than mere publication clippings. His local homes and buildings remain architectural treasures in the Omaha metro.

Daniel Naegele, associate professor of architecture at Iowa State University and co-author of the soon-to-be-published Astle & Omaha, says his buildings are “highlights of architecture.” Bruce Wrightsman, assistant professor of architecture at Kansas State University and the other co-author adds, “Astle had a profound effect upon architecture in the state of Nebraska.”

Tollefson House (Wausa, Nebraska)

In 2008, Astle was posthumously awarded the Harry F. Cunningham Gold Medal for Architectural Excellence in the State of Nebraska—the highest honor that the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects can bestow in recognition of distinguished architectural achievement. This path to praise was laid in a dedication to material detailing and modernist ideologies.

Astle was born in Salt Lake City in 1933 and earned a degree in architecture from the University of Utah in 1958. The next year, he earned a Master of Architecture and Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The department was then chaired by Pietro Belluschi, designer of many high-profile buildings, including the Pan Am (now MetLife) Building in New York City. At MIT, Naegele says, “Astle would have been seduced by Eero Saarinen’s extremely popular Kresge Auditorium and Chapel and by Alvar Aalto’s Baker House auditorium.” The concrete-and-glass structure auditorium and brick dormitory with a large S-curve would later be reference points to many of his projects in Nebraska.

In 1964, Astle moved to Ralston; in 1965, he founded Neil Astle and Associates and began teaching architecture and community design at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

Benedictine Mission House (Schuyler, Nebraska)

From 1968–1981 his Omaha-based firm received six AIA Nebraska Design Awards, five Central State Awards and two Architectural Record Awards of Excellence. In 1983, he became a fellow in the AIA. Then in 1999, Astle received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Utah Society of Institute of Architects—the first and still only Utah recipient of this award. Astle died in 2000, receiving the Cunningham Gold Medal from AIA Nebraska posthumously eight years later.

Why such lingering admiration for this Omaha-based architect?

Astle’s architectural style, now known as midcentury modern, confronts the expansive nature of suburbia with a counter solution: intense material and spatial investigations, along with honed detailing. As Naegele says, “The transition from man-made suburbia to Neil-made suburbia is one of Astle’s great accomplishments.”

Searching for authenticity in materials, Astle’s architecture was primarily fabricated in cedar and concrete—aging with the landscape of the site—finding continuity of interior and exterior space. Through their specific placement, these structures cascade on their sites. Like other architecture of the period, searching for simplicity was not simple.

The DeSoto Wildlife Center (Missouri Valley, Iowa)

With a focus on micro details (for example: hinging on cabinets and closet cladding) and using natural light and architectural space, many of his projects (including several Omaha-area homes and the DeSoto Wildlife Center in Missouri Valley, Iowa) strike an uncompromising balance of form, function, and the environment. 

In 1980, Architectural Digest described Astle’s award-winning work as “an architectural gem” and “unmistakably modern.” This respect continues to be felt by many of his contemporaries. Ross Miller, architectural designer at HDR, speaks to Astle’s legacy by simply stating, “he is a true architect.”

Visit aiane.org for more information about the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Learn about two Neil Astle homes for sale recently in Omaha in this article’s companion piece: “Two Homes, One Architect”

Ball House (Omaha, Nebraska)

Two Homes, One Architect

August 23, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Scanning any architectural periodical or blog, there are endless examples of buildings with clean lines, simple spaces, and minimal material pallets. Contemporary architecture owes much of this ethos to the modernist architects of the mid-20th century.

Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe encapsulated the design philosophy with his famous quote: “less is more.” While turn-of-the-millennium McMansions of suburban Omaha represent the antithesis to the minimalism of midcentury modernism, the Omaha metro is home to several notable modernist residences designed by architect Neil Astle.

Two local homes designed by Astle came available on the market over the summer: the Flansburg Residence (located at 2205 S. 111th Circle) and the Ball Residence (located at 2525 S. 95th Circle).

Ball Residence (2525 S. 95th Circle)

Flansburg Residence (2205 S. 111th Circle)

Astle lived in Omaha between 1965 and 1981. During that time, he completed many award-winning architectural commissions, only a handful of which were homes. For his residential work, Astle said, “It is all part of refining a design in a complete way so that clients have few decisions to make—even about furnishings.” Dan Naegele, associate professor of architecture at Iowa State University, says, “They are more than houses. They are dwellings and are to be valued, cared for, basked in, and appreciated.”

Theoretically, Astle was challenging something greater with his suburban homes. Naegele explains that the architect “removed the garage from the house, allowing its presence as a separate entity to create a complex. The remote, innocuous, naturally clad garage, though convenient to the house, was not part of the house itself. It allowed for the house to be low, and to be stretched across the site, rather than piled up in one place.”

The Flansburg Residence, located in the Rockbrook neighborhood, is a 2,500-square-foot home completed in 1969. Nancy Flansburg Novak, senior designer and partner at Alley Poyner Macchietto, grew up in the home and recalls her parents commissioning Astle to build the structure. She says, “my newlywed parents [Steve and Mildred Flansburg] were looking at homes, drove past Neil’s house, and stopped to ask who the architect was. He said it was him.” After a short exchange, the Flansburgs became Astle’s first residential clients. They also became lifelong friends.

At the end of cul-de-sac, the split-level home sits surrounded by foliage. A carefully crafted foyer between the garage and home creates the first of many spectacular spaces. The patina of vertically clad western red cedar, a favorite material of Astle, fully wraps both units. According to Naegele, “[Astle’s] houses are all wood and because of this, they seem to exude authenticity.” This darker space sits in contrast to the light-filled living spaces.

Entering the front door, creamy wool carpet and gray slate blanket the first level, which contains the living room and kitchen. An angular ceiling, clad in horizontal knot-free cedar, fills the entertaining areas with natural light. While the space is incredibly simple, phenomenal woodworking details by Bill Hayes are still in place. Subtle surprises are omnipresent.

Astle once said, “I try to get into families’ needs and express them thoroughly.” Going up or down a half or full level in the Flansburg Residence, Astle’s design philosophy becomes clear. Flansburg Novak recalls the home being “her jungle gym,” with plenty of nooks and crannies for her and her siblings. “It always felt big and open,” she says.

While Astle had free reign on the home’s design, the tight budget necessitated creative design solutions that come off as effortless. The efficient floor plan unfolds with neatly tucked away bedrooms, storage areas, exterior patios, and library. On the lower level, the ceilings were raised to allow the home’s patriarch to practice table tennis—many of his trophies remain in the library. The Flansburg’s home went on to win several awards, including a 1969 Residential Design Merit Award with the Nebraska chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Less than two miles away on the edge of Towl Park, the Ball Residence extends many of Astle’s architectural tropes. Built in 1975 with the same cedar, owner Tami Doll (co-owner and vice president at Doll Distributing LLC) calls the home “a work of art.”

The 3,900-square-foot home features a detached garage, which contributes to the dramatic view of a courtyard where cedar and brick wrap the exterior and interior planes.


“When I walk in, there is a peacefulness about the home,” Doll says.

Upon entry, light fills the space, pulling full-scale picturesque views inside—suggesting continuity between human, architecture, and nature. Three bedrooms and entertaining spaces are neatly organized in an open floor plan and the same cedar covers much of the interior.

The original homeowners, Dale and Sylvia Ball, were quoted as saying, “The single most important decision in the whole process was selecting Neil as the architect.” Their instincts rang true when the home won the Honor Award for Distinguished Accomplishment in Architecture in 1975, as well as being written about  in many national and international publications.

Recently featured in The New York Times (June 14) and academic literature, it is obvious that Astle’s work is significant, but as Doll notes, “I don’t think people realize homes like this are in Omaha.”

Astle’s works are “rare gifts to Nebraska,” Naegele says. These two residences—the Flansburg and Ball residences—offer a chance to reflect and remember how good his work was (and continues to be).

This article was printed in the September/October 2017 edition of Omaha Home. Learn more about Neil Astle’s work in the Omaha area in this article’s companion piece: “Neil Astle: Omaha’s Midcentury Modern Man”