Office 2.0: Randy Brown Gives The U.S. Data Corporation A Cutting-Edge Office
When a progressive law firm asked for a cutting-edge office in downtown Omaha, Randy Brown Architects responded with jazzy angled walls, a moody black ceiling, and an open layout. That was 15 years ago. When the lawyers moved on, their space, with only minor alterations, became the regional headquarters for the U.S. Data Corporation, a supplier of marketing information such as mailing lists, sales leads, and research on both consumers and businesses. Although the company flourished for three years in its hand-me-down interior, the next move was to lease somewhere twice as big. Discovering that Randy Brown was responsible for the downtown location, the company wasted no time before asking him to reinterpret his concept for 5,000 raw square feet in a spec building in a leafy office park in the suburbs.
Starting with scale models in cardboard, Brown experimented with folding the angled walls he’d used downtown, wrapping them onto the ceiling in the suburbs. The resulting jagged forms, realized in budget-conscious gypsum-board on light-gauge galvanized-metal studs, define a circulation route that begins at reception and proceeds past the conference room en route to the sales team in the far corner. Along the way, he punched the gypsum-board with large apertures, which offer glimpses across the space. The glass front of the conference room displays large and small black numbers: the area codes and zip codes that U.S. Data targets in the Midwest and California.
To brighten the conference room, Brown assembled a large, crystalline ceiling fixture from milky-white polycarbonate panels and lit it with warm fluorescent tubes. It wasn’t until fluorescents were installed throughout—there are essentially no incandescent bulbs—that he visited the site to finalize the exact shade of electric-lime paint for reception and the corridor. The inspiration, he explains, was an old-school green cursor he’d found flashing on a computer monitor hidden in U.S. Data’s server room. “That green has a lot to do with the history of computers and digital data,” he says, recalling his own long-ago flirtations with programming in Pascal and Fortran.
To toughen up the green-and-white—”it’s not St. Patrick’s every day”—he painted some walls gray and clad a few others in inexpensive corrugated siding from a supplier of agricultural sheds. These deeply grooved 5-by-10-foot galvanized-steel panels are ubiquitous in the rural landscape. “They relate to U.S. Data being founded in Nebraska,” he explains. For private offices, he screwed unpainted panels onto studs sheathed in oriented strand-board, carefully covering all sharp edges with galvanized-metal flashing. “So you don’t rub against one and cut your clothes,” he notes. Floor-to-ceiling plumbing pipe supports the freestanding panels that define the office area.
Brown pinched pennies every step of the way. Skipping a suspended ceiling, he painted the steel decking and structural trusses white. While the downtown office was carpeted, he left the beautifully finished concrete slab bare here. The workstations, which came from downtown, were disassembled and reconfigured with angled panels over the course of a long weekend. When the architecture came in $20,000 under an already frugal budget, money became available to invest in high-end seating. The company president’s wife, a trained designer with experience on residential projects, took over from here, selecting chairs by Le Corbusier and Charles and Ray Eames in businesslike black leather. You don’t need any research data to know that those are classics.
Photography by Farshid Assassi.
CASSINA: CHAIR (HALL), ARMCHAIRS (OFFICE, OFFICE AREA).
LITHONIA LIGHTING: LINEAR FIXTURES (HALL), RECESSED CEILING FIXTURES (CONFERENCE ROOM).
HERMAN MILLER: TASK CHAIRS (OFFICE AREA, CONFERENCE ROOM).
SHERWIN-WILLIAMS COMPANY: PAINT.
L.M. SCOFIELD COMPANY: CONCRETE SEALANT.
CANELLI ENGINEERING: MECHANICAL ENGINEER.
ALVINE ENGINEERING: ELECTRICAL ENGINEER.
KSI CONSTRUCTION: GENERAL CONTRACTOR.