Most architects who open second offices do so a few years into their practice, once they’ve built a base from which to branch out. Fewer follow the path taken by E.B. Min, AIA, and Jeffrey L. Day, AIA, who in 2003 launched Min | Day in two cities—San Francisco and Omaha, Neb. The circumstances leading to that decision were mundane—Day followed his fiancee to Omaha while Min stayed in the Bay Area, where they had been working together on and off for a few years—yet their practice has become anything but.
The business partners, who met as graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley, are developing a unique voice in the creative junction between these two places, which are as different in sensibility as they are in topography. San Francisco shouts good design in daily life and clients usually know what they want. But the quieter Midwest city is a surprisingly agile testing ground for new visual ideas, in part because it has a less well-defined regional style.
“Clients in the Bay Area have more focused opinions about what they like or don’t like, but they may be less willing to open up to new ideas” than clients in the conventionally bland Midwest, Day says. “Here in Omaha it’s more like, ‘I don’t want what I see around me.’ It gives us room to experiment a bit.”
Those experiments often explore the fluid relationships between architecture, landscape, and technology. With art-related undergraduate degrees—Min studied art history and studio art at Brown University; Day focused on visual and environmental studies at Harvard College—the pair collaborates across disciplines, combining traditional building methods with digitally fabricated designs. Their enthusiasm for using sophisticated technology to tease out the specificity of the site shows up in projects like the Lake Okoboji house in Iowa. For the master bedroom facing the lake, they used animation software to create a rippling headboard, made from thin stacked sheets of birch plywood, that mimics the water’s surface. They also cast the light-filtering screens of an Omaha condominium in a laser-cut pattern suggesting prairie grass.
That Min | Day’s buildings reference their natural surroundings is no accident, either. Day teaches landscape architecture classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Architecture, where he is an associate professor. Min’s stint at San Francisco–based Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture (then Delaney & Cochran) taught her that color and texture are as important as form. Both are fascinated by the interplay of painted finishes and the colors reflected in nature. “There’s a portion of landscape design that is very graphic in nature,” Min says.
Those qualities are evident in the Omaha condo, where vivid blue walls defining the vertical circulation are paired with high windows that admit snapshots of sky and shifting light. Another is the bright orange boys’ bath in the lake house. “Some people say they can’t handle that much color in a room, but when you’re in these spaces it’s very different from what you see in photos,” Min says. “And if there aren’t a lot of other views—just a bath with a little window—monolithic color makes it a more interesting environment. We work pretty hard on getting the right whites, too.”