Omaha residents are familiar with the Old Market District. Home to restaurants, bars, a farmer’s market and shops, it’s a popular spot for locals and visitors alike to enjoy entertainment and eateries. Follow its cobblestone streets just a block south to Jones St., and you’ll find the newly expanded KANEKO building – a hidden gem that’s about to become a whole lot more well known.
That’s because, according to the Omaha World Herald, project organizers hope the new façade will invite more foot traffic from the Old Market, by luring visitors just a bit farther south where they can explore the KANEKO and other businesses in the area immediately south of the Old Market. Los Angeles-based architect Mark Mack, collaborated with HDR, Project Advocates and Lund Ross on the project and had this to say to the World Herald about the thought behind the new atrium, “…we wanted to create a landmark…[for] the new space to serve as a lantern for the surrounding area.”
Lighting the Lantern
Miller Electric was fortunate to be involved in this exciting project, by providing the electrical work in the newly added atrium that connects the KANEKO’s three brick buildings. While the old entry was preserved as a window into the art gallery, the new atrium connects office space and visitors to the gallery, where Jun KANEKO’s art work, including his towering ceramic heads, as well as the work of other renowned artists are displayed. Additionally, the atrium serves to invite community members into the creative space for classes and performances. “The KANEKO is a special place of creative exploration for the public. It is nice to partner with a company, like Miller Electric, who really cares about their craft and puts as much into it as the KANEKO does its mission,” said Jun and Ree KANEKO. “It was a joy to have Miller Electric as part of this project.”
Those events include a presentation about film techniques and the creative use of light from Academy-Award winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore as well as TEDxOmaha creative architecture presentations and an opportunity to chat with best-selling author Stephen King.
As for the creative use of light, that is something that Miller Electric’s man on the job, Joe Pecha noticed right away about design for the KANEKO atrium. “They use light in so many creative ways. For example, the accent lights we installed on the beam pockets outside and inside the atrium building draw attention to the brick, which incorporates a modern look into the existing, older building.”
In addition to the cool accent lighting, the type of glass installed in the atrium windows creates unique patterns in the form of concentric circles of light entering the building. Those patterns even have an unintended effect of mimicking the KANEKO building logo.
Like the lights, Joe’s installation of conduit deviated from the norm as well. The building’s design called for hiding the building’s conduit in plain sight. “I had to make it exposed but not exposed. I had to tuck everything into a corner without taking away from the building itself. It had to be functional yet not draw too much attention to itself. It had to hide in plain sight.”
KANEKO Project Highlights Miller’s Custom Commercial Crew
From the beginning stages of the project, when Custom Commercial Operations Manager Charlie Graeves examined the drawings for the atrium, he could tell right away this would be a fun and challenging project. “A lot of coordination was required to pull off success because there were a lot of unique aspects to the project.” What a lot of visitors to the atrium may not realize, for example, is that the second floor ceiling slants toward the west end of the building. The design called for hanging lights, which had to be rigged at differing heights to preserve a feeling of uniform height and provide consistent light range to gallery staff.
“We started working on the KANEKO façade in May and finished in November, but most of the work was performed after August,” says Charlie. “In addition to Joe, all the guys in the service department as well as Randy Niehaus with HDR; Don Carda, Todd Pfeiffer, and Chris Nightser with Miller as well as the entire prefab team were instrumental in us pulling off this job, which was very unique and had little redundancy.”
In addition to being cool, the job gave Miller Electric’s Custom Commercial department an opportunity to shine. “This was a textbook job for us,” says Charlie. “Joe would work on this project and three to five others in a week at times. Since KANEKO only needed us 12 hours a week for the first part of the project, it allowed us to maximize our labor time and keep guys busy with work they enjoy.”
Joe echoed Charlie’s sentiment, noting his enjoyment of the variety of work that being part of the Custom Commercial team affords him. “I like going to a job for a couple of weeks and then having the opportunity to move on another gig. With the KANEKO job though, I have to say that the people there made it hard to leave; they’re like a family. They were down to earth, easy to work with and really went above and beyond in accommodating us. They made it an extremely satisfying work environment and I’m really thankful to have had the opportunity to be part of the project.”
The feeling was mutual for KANEKO staff. Said KANEKO Executive Director, Chris Hochstetler, ““Through the course of this project, Miller Electric became like family members to us. I got used to coming to work early and seeing Joe Pecha already here working, we would share stories about running, family, and the job. The work that was done here by Miller Electric is true craftsmanship and will stand as part of this great new facility, but moreover, KANEKO feels like we have gained family members for life.”