‘A Friendly Reminder’ by architectural designers Ashley Byars and Bill DeRoin seeks to graphically illustrate the gasoline consumption of an average daily Omaha commute. The purpose of the banner is not to incite or inflame, but to make visible something not typical seen. As suggested by the common phase “A picture is worth 1000 words”, seeing a statistic graphically can be more profound then reading it. Bill and Ashley hope the illustration encourages discussion about fuel consumption, commuting, and transportation in Omaha.

The idea for the banner began with the site itself. Rather than treating the grain elevator as merely a gallery wall, Bill and Ashley wanted the physical characteristics to inform their idea. The iconic structures have long served the important role of storage, and given the topic Transport(ation), Bill and Ashley began to wonder how the structure might once again embody energy storage, and even perhaps connect the contemporary use of corn as the fuel powering much of our transportation. These observations led Bill and Ashley to ask the question: “How much of a silo would be filled with all the gas used in Omaha’s typical daily commute?”

The quickest place to start was determining the volume capacity of a single grain elevator. For the sake of simplicity, the silos were perceived as perfectly hollow cylinders with thin exterior walls and an average dimension of 12.5’ radius and 101’ height. With these dimensions the volume (V=[pi]R^2 x H) was calculated to be 49,553 cubic feet.

The next (and more difficult) calculation to find was a quantifiable value for how much gasoline Omaha commuters use on a daily basis.  Employing various methods including online resources and actually driving typical commute routes, the following criteria was determined:

No. of Omaha Passenger Vehicle Commuters             =            273,936 (1)

Average Passenger Vehicle Fuel Efficiency              =             21 mpg (2)

Average Omaha Commuting Time                        =            17.3 Minutes (3)

Average Omaha Commuting Distance                        =            13.3 miles

273,936 commuters x 13.3miles / 21 mpg and reached the value of 172,188 gallons, or 23,018 cubic feet.  This volume was placed into the elevator volume capacity, and resulted in a final value of the daily gasoline consumption equaling roughly 46.5% capacity of a typical silo.

To graphically represent these findings as a 20’ x 80’ banner, tick marks were established on the vertical edge of graphic, much like the respective markings on a car’s fuel gauge. Since the banners only cover the top 80’ of the 100’ structure, the bottom tick mark actually represents 1/5 full. Likewise, the fill level of the liquid being shown on the image, though it is in the bottom third of the 80’ banner, will actually represent much more closely to 46.5% full level on the actual site. Other elements include a silhouetted Omaha skyline, providing a visual reference to the subject city. The gas pump nozzle clearly illustrates gasoline but hopefully leaves some mystery,  inspiring further investigation by the 76,000/day passerby-by viewers. Since the statistics used include neither commercial vehicles, nor out-of-town daily commuters, the amount represented is likely underestimated, but nonetheless offers commuters a new perspective of resource consumption.

Ashley Byars is an architectural designer at Min|Day Architects and 2010 graduate from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln with a Masters of Architecture degree.  Co-designer, and husband, Bill DeRoin, works for HDR Architecture in Omaha, and also earned a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln in 2007.


(1)  – http://www.city-data.com/city/Omaha-Nebraska.html

(2)  – 19th Ed. “Transportation Energy Data Book,” by the U.S. Department of Energy

(3)  – 2005 US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey