November 1, 2012

Local Flavor: Bozell’s Oklahoma City Office by Randy Brown

Big space, small budget? No problem. At least not for Randy Brown. Arguably Omaha’s most noted architect, he once again got to show his design chops with a 7,000-square-foot office for Bozell, a 50-strong advertising and public-relations agency that counts “Pork, The Other White Meat” and the Milk Mustache campaigns to its credit. “We knew this was going to be an unconventional project,” Brown recalls of his first meeting with the agency, which buzzes with Generation Y graphic designers, Web programmers, and social-media mavens. “They explained their business to me while performing tricks on skateboards.”

In addition to follies on wheels, Randy Brown Architects was also confronted with the ground floor of a former factory dating to the 1880’s. The site was originally a tannery producing leather goods like saddles and bags. Subsequently, it was a coffee plant and then a storage warehouse. That it was situated smack in downtown Omaha amid the city’s railroad yards was a built-in plus. “The grunge-type setting was just what this young, plucky crowd found appealing,” Brown says.

The architect did virtually nothing to change the site’s bones. Not a single wall, column, or old lighting fixture was moved. Nor was anything done to the 100-year-plus painted wooden floor. Walls got a fresh coat of white paint, exposed bricks were sandblasted, and the dropped drywall ceiling was removed, revealing a beautiful wooden structure. “Otherwise, I just let it be raw,” he continues.

In terms of actual work space, Bozell eschewed privacy and hierarchical trappings in favor of an all-for-one setup. Brown’s main criterion was to stimulate creativity. So, he distilled his design to two moves. “I said, ‘What you need are desks and meeting spaces.’”

The latter comes in the form of a trio of what Brown refers to as “I pods.” The name of the enclosures of course references the ubiquitous music machines into which Bozell staffers are constantly plugged, but it is also short for idea pods. The free-standing structures—certainly the project’s wow factor—were conceived to offer staffers places for solitary thinking and ad-hoc meetings.

Ad hoc describes the pods’ building materials, too: wood salvaged from weathered doors, window frames, siding, and palettes. “I have a barn where I store those kind of things from demolished projects,” says the architect, who has a house and 10 acres in northern Omaha. Other bits and pieces are of dicier provenance. “Yep,” he says, “we went dumpster diving in the warehouse district.” Finds included battered suitcases, vestiges of artists’ easels, and a sled, all hauled back to the site by Brown himself in his truck. “They add color, density, and layering,” he notes.

Construction was equally low-tech and DIY. Brown and his team nailed the disparate elements to wooden frameworks approximately 10 feet tall, which tempers the 16-foot-high space. The architect first describes his trio of finished pods—each unique in form, somewhat like a roofless, teetering yurt with a randomly positioned entrance—poetically. “With their forced perspective, they create an ever-changing experience and a visual jungle gym for the eye.” On a pragmatic plane, they divide the rectangular floor plate in half lengthwise and help counter the massive overall scale.

For the aforementioned desks, Brown did nothing more than design a model out of recycled plywood and replicate it 50 times—helping the project stay on target with the client’s limited budget and eco ethos. He kept divider panels low to avoid a cube-farm effect. For order, he reverted to the factory’s structure. The existing lighting grid and columns provided a ready-made map for workstations arrayed in bays of four.

When it came time for move-in, the process couldn’t have been simpler. The Bozell team arrived with their laptops and a few chairs, including Aeron and Le Corbusier models retained from previous quarters. As for the check to Brown covering the $18-per-square-foot budget? Sent electronically, of course.

Project Team
Chris Turner; Jeff Gillway; Andrew Conzetti; Sean Ward: Randy Brown Architects. G&T Custom Woodworking (402-291-5815): Woodwork.

Recent Projects