Building Trugmentum

July 28th, 2012 : : : :

Change happens in fits and starts.

At its most basic, the Trug: Leavenworth project—a partnership between the Greater Omaha Chamber and Emerging Terrain—provides some public space and brightens up the steet in an area that is considered by some to be a little rough around the edges.

But since the Trugs are only out on the street for four months, we hope there can be some lasting effects after the Trugs are removed this autumn. We want the project to be a catalyst—a spark—that sets off a cascade of activity. We are now halfway through the summer, and we are seeing some very promising things that are starting to look like that cascade just might be beginning in various ways.

Leavenworth Restriping

Leavenworth Restriping

This weekend marks the beginning of the City’s restriping of Leavenworth Street between 13th and 31st Streets—which includes the Trug segment!

Although many factors played into the City’s decision to remove a lane of car traffic and add a bike lane, the Trug: Leavenworth project helped to encourage and accelerate the process. We worked closely with the City for the past year as the Trugs were developed, and early on we included schematic proposals for how the street could be transformed through restriping. We held joint community meetings about both initiatives, championing each other’s projects. Like the Trugs, the City sees restriping as a lightweight way to have a big impact on the neighborhood. We think the restriping is a big success for everyone—the City, the Trug project, and of course the neighborhood. We are happy to have played a part in this permanent change to the street.

Trug Little Library

Photo by Bryce Bridges Photographic


The Little Free Library has garnered much excitement and use. The Omaha Public Library and Midtown Neighborhood Alliance partnered to initiate the installation of a weather-resistant bookcase from which neighborhood residents can borrow or swap books. OPL has kept the little library stocked with donated books, which then make their way into individuals’ and families’ possession. Similar to the Trugs, the idea for the little library is borrowed from projects happening in other areas. This one was designed to complement the Trugs and built using leftover Trug materials, but people have expressed interest in seeing more little free libraries around town. Perhaps groups all over town will install and stock little free libraries in their neighborhoods?

Vision Tree

Photo by Jaim Hackbart, Inkline Press

Neighborhood Visions

Neighborhood resident, business owner, and artist Jaim Hackbart’s Vision Tree project provided a beautiful and interactive way for individuals to express their hopes and ideas for community improvement. She spent part of each day for a week actively seeking out and engaging other local residents and passersby. Each person wrote their vision on a swatch of paper (made from donated pieces of original art) and tied it to one of the Trug trees. On the final day of the project, Jaim and other area artists each took a 2-hour shift to hand out flowers in the neighborhood and wish each recipient a “nice day.”  As Jaim says, “Transformation begins with a thought…transformation happens with an action.” She has expressed how the project has personally changed the way she sees and interacts with her community and the other people in it.

We have been so moved by the project—its thoughfulness, the impressive number of people involved, and its humanity—that we are currently looking through all the vision notes for something that might spark another creative public space project in the neighborhood that can follow when the Trugs move on.

All of this has happened in just the first two months of the project; we can’t wait to see what happens in the next two months and beyond…

Shifting Thresholds Road Show

July 27th, 2012 : : : :

A lot has happened on Shifting Thresholds in the aftermath of Trugs, Stored Potential, and Elevate. We have been working tirelessly on the mapping research, conducting interviews, community engagement, and considering the project’s next evolution. Kayla and I have clocked over 1,500 miles driving around the diverse landscape of Omaha’s southern suburban/rural edge, and have to date interviewed 45 local residents, including farmers, the development community, county officials, and suburban residents. On June 26th, we held a charrette with an advisory team comprised of Sarah Thomas, Sloan Dawson, Emily Andersen, and Drew Seyl. We received critical input about the final stages of research and the project’s future phases. (more…)

Elevation Station Preview: HDR / Boiler Room

July 9th, 2012 : : : :

Hosting a dinner for 500 people within the confines of a public right-of-way, on a bridge, over another right-of-way is monumental, epic—possibly downright ridiculous.  It is an undertaking that quite easily could be encountered in Midtown Manhattan or Los Angeles where the infrastructure and equipment for such an event already exists. That kind of happening in those kinds of places would seem like a natural occurrence.

In Omaha, however, this infrastructure just doesn’t exist. Or, at least, not frequently and certainly not in this magnitude and extremes.

As a culture we encourage such extremes around food.  People expect more from their experiences with and enjoyment of food.   We have created a food-centric culture, where meals are highly crafted, paired with proper wine, and enjoyed in settings or eateries that help frame unique experiences.  Coincidently, we have also propped up an entire industry of Food Networks, celebrity chefs, cookbooks, and associated paraphernalia that often times allow us to disregard regional traditions and season.

In effect, we use this industry to recreate these experiences in the privacy of our own settings.  Or, we  try to recreate the foods from our childhood when seeking a dining experience.  Recalling what we had for casual dinners with our parents or possibly our grandparents, the simple meals.  Thus reinforcing our communal relationship with food—the notion to eat and share with many.

For ElevATE, Chef Paul Kulik of the Boiler Room has teamed up with HDR and Kiewit Building Group to provide a return to the most primitive relationship to food and space.  Fire has always played the most dramatic and instructive role in how and where people eat and furthermore, as a function of culture, dine.  With that in mind we created an inverted firepit, where the elevated flames are deflected forward to roast from behind rather from below.  The effect is both visually stunning and useful.  We then introduced a vertical spit to allow the meat to roast with direct contact to the fire while still being able to render its juices onto a catch pan of vegetables.  Open fire grills are still quite common.  In the northeast of Italy they have a more regional name: fogolar, or fireplace.   These wood fired ovens often double as cooktops.

Drawing from the temporal pop-up tents of the Burning Man, we have created a setting around a central fogolar, which has been designed to create a cocoon of fire and heat around the vertical spit.  The curvature of the fogolar  facilitates a natural convective current to provide a more efficient and uniform cooking environment.   Smoke and heat are controlled and allowed to naturally ventilate via a central chimney that forms the main support for the structure.  The chimney is created with typical construction site materials such as scaffold post and crossbars, planking and heat resistant tarpaulin.

Translucent debris netting hung from rings of electric metal tubing intimately embraces the fogolar and slightly obscures views from both within and out of the dining area.  As a result, attention remains on the events around the fogolar.  Once the event has transpired, then all materials can be once again utilized in their normal mode.

It is our belief that a meal is incomplete without its accompanying beverage.  We were very fortunate then, when we found out that Matteo Burani from Friuli’s oldest winery, Tenuta Angoris, wanted to be in Omaha and that we would be presenting some of his most regionally appropriate wine straight from a barrel!   This is the communal nexus of space, food, fire and drink.