Sustainability Icon in a Sea of Suburbia

I call Omaha, Nebraska home. A mid-sized city in what many Americans call the “fly over” portion of the country, the Midwest. Omaha is unique in that Nebraska law allows any city to extend its city limits and annex adjacent areas or towns under 10,000 in population. I’m not sure how annexation works in the rest of the country, but here in Minnesota, the Twin Cities are a great example of a metropolitan area which has not annexed adjacent towns, leaving suburbs clumped together and surrounding each other in up to 7 counties adjacent to Minneapolis and St. Paul. One odd fact, I assume largely has to do with this sprawling and annexing ability, Omaha actually has a larger city limit population and smaller density than Minneapolis.

This concept seemed strange to me when I first moved here, but I’m sure annexation would seem strange to Minnesotans. The strangeness to me is that each of these suburbs seems to have their own identity, while Omaha has annexed so many suburbs over the years and some have kept traces of their identities while others have merged into the context of the rest of the very sprawled out city.

This sprawling effect has resulted in some not so beautiful and rather bland architectural “urban” fabric, but as I have driven home over the last year or so I began to see a light in the tunneled abyss of mid-rise 80s and 90s corporate architecture. TD Ameritrade has built a new headquarters building in the western portion of the middle of the city, a portion which was not within the city limits before at least the 70s or later. HOK Architects label the building as “A Sustainability Icon for Omaha” on their website. Perhaps the intent was to create an icon that would promote further change, but it makes me wonder if a building needs to “promote sustainability” in an aesthetic manner or if the public will even notice.

HOK Rendering - Close to View from Dodge Street

HOK Rendering – Close to View from Dodge Street

The Omaha World Herald has also questioned the design of the building within the context of the city through this video. They’ve interviewed citizens from the area who have described the building as: a game changer, unfinished, nice, different and unique architecturally, random with no public meaning, and changing the landscape of that area of the city.  It does drastically change the landscape of the area, all due to its color and materiality. Whether this change in landscape represents an “Icon of Sustainability” or not is up to the individual. It could still be a highly sustainable building and blend in with the urban fabric, but HOK chose to make it stand out. Most of the viewers of this building will be from their cars on the elevated Dodge Street which is the main east-west street in the city and provides a view to the building midway up. Even those who will see the building as an “Icon for Sustainability” will most likely be seeing it from their car, elevated on a highway, and very much removed from the idea of sustainability. That being said, aesthetically, it does represent a fresh appearance in the area.

Image from Omaha World Herald by Mark Davis - showing adjacent context

Image from Omaha World Herald by Mark Davis – showing adjacent context

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HOK Rendering

HOK Rendering

Actual View from Dodge Street

Actual View from Dodge Street

Great Construction Sequence Video by Architectural Wall Systems

Sources:

OWH: TD Ameritrade building’s random look is by design

OWH: TD Ameritrade’s new HQ: sustainability icon

HOK: TD Ameritrade Headquarters

Nebraska Legislature Annexation

Architectural Wall Systems

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