The buildings designed at the Min | Day architecture firm are vivid, calculated and pristine. The office where those designs are birthed is, well, not so much.
Inside, the two-tiered floors are made of strand board and sealed plywood. Walls are covered with blotchy white paint, with more slathered across sections of revealed brick. If you peek in one corner of the room you can see down into a 5- or 6-foot abyss, filled with cobwebs and grit.
“One of the things we like is there’s nothing precious about it,” said Jeffrey L. Day, the firm’s Omaha-based principal. “There’s just some old paint on the wall. You can do whatever. So if we have to make something, we bolt it to the wall.”
The Min | Day office near 59th and Maple Streets in Benson wasn’t built just for the architecture firm. The inside of the space was actually designed by architect-turned-artist Thomas Prinz, who used the space as a studio before opening a new one. Prinz still owns the building and rents to Min | Day.
The building isn’t meant to mirror the quality of the firm’s work. Rather, it serves as a canvas upon which to showcase it.
Dennis Krymuza, a designer at Min | Day, said the holes in the floor, the odd artifacts and the small workspaces don’t detract from the work they do.
“It’s an older building, it’s in need of upkeep, but it has kind of a charm to it in a sense,” Krymuza said. “It offers a kind of close, tight-knit environment.”
When clients come in, they sit at a simple wooden conference table, slotted between two long metal shelves filled with dozens of scaled-down models. There are barns, trees and little houses, some with itty-bitty plastic people inside.
Made of basswood, chipboard and plastic, the models show tiny versions of big undertakings. Some, like the Blue Barn Theatre, have real-life counterparts. Others are relics of abandoned dreams, such as the serpentine shell of a doughnut-shape house that sits at eye level east of the conference table. It was planned for an island in Maine, but the family backed out of the project — it proved too cumbersome to travel to the island.
Day’s work station sits on the other side of the shelf that houses the model. Nearby there’s an old drafting table with a bent-arm lamp, graph paper, pencils and a protractor. But Day, 50, rarely works there anymore; most of his work is done from a red swivel chair, where he works on a MacBook Pro with a second monitor.
Sometimes Day works on the road. He travels in his role as a professor and director of the architecture program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and he also travels for Min | Day. The firm has a twin office in San Francisco.
Day started the firm with E.B. Min in 2003. The two met in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid-1990s after Day’s undergraduate schooling at Harvard.
Min and Day collaborated on projects in San Francisco after finishing graduate school, continuing when Day left for Omaha in 2000 for his wife’s work; she is now the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Creighton University. Shortly after, they formally started a firm.
The two offices make one company, but they’re completely different environments.
San Francisco’s Min | Day is in an old cannery near the shipyard. It looks out over the city and the bay and is surrounded by other art and tech startups.
The Benson office is on the ground level near a series of popular bars. It feels more connected to the life walking along the street, Day said.
Dual south-facing windows flood the Benson space with filtered light. The hum of sedans and shuffling pedestrians gives the space a soundtrack the San Francisco office doesn’t have, Day said, and one the Omaha branch didn’t have at its original location in the Hot Shops Art Center in north downtown.
“Having a little bit of street noise is good,” Day said. “It feels like we’re in a real place.”
One day, Min | Day might need to move to a bigger place. When it does, Day would like more tables — maybe one for every major project so he and his employees don’t have to put away their toys when a client comes in.
But for now, they’ll make it work.
“It wasn’t that I sought this out and this was exactly the right space. But that’s the thing,” Day said. “We (architects) improvise, we can work in almost any environment.”