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McKinley House
1950; 2003–2007 addition, Randy Brown Architects. 5550 McKinley St.
  • View northwest (Photograph by Assassi Productions)
  • View north (Photograph by Assassi Productions)
  • View south (Photograph by Assassi Productions)
  • (Photograph by Assassi Productions)

Approached from a driveway through its prairie site, the house is perched upon a hill on ten acres of land north of downtown Omaha. Its owner, award-winning architect Randy Brown, designed the addition to an existing 1950s yellow ranch-style house.

The house is located on the highest ground of the site on the edge of where trees meet a native prairie grass meadow. Brown designed and built the addition, which cost just under a half-million dollars, over a four-year period with the help of college students from local universities. During the summers, the students received payment and academic credit for their collaborative work on the project. This approach and educational atmosphere contributed to Brown’s idea that the house would be a laboratory for architectural experimentation.

The house, which appears as a complex set of elongated geometric forms, is defined by three primary elements: the existing house, a “big cube” or gallery, and a bridge that connects them. The project organization, materials, and performance were informed by a varied set of intentions. Connecting the natural landscape with the man-made, the house intentionally evokes abandoned equipment, “farm machinery rusting away in the rural landscape.” This is especially apparent in the use of steel and wood exterior cladding whose patina changes with time.

The house’s internal spaces are well-defined but feel open, dynamic, and connected to the larger whole. This was achieved through various design features: canted walls, floors pulled away from walls, mezzanines, large window walls, and lightweight stairs assemblies. Each element of the house was custom designed and constructed on-site in a piecemeal fashion, which allowed the project to be both didactic and evolving. These custom elements include panelized walls, hybrid wood and steel wall structures, five staircase designs, three custom window frames, and customized millwork. Sustainability was also a factor in the house’s design, which includes passive solar, natural ventilation, renewable materials, radiant flooring, heat pumps, and a green roof system.

Currently, the house remains a private residence and a “work in progress” with unfinished areas that offer future design opportunities.


Fortmeyer, Russell. “Brown House, Omaha.” Architectural Record4 (2007): 113-119.

Writing Credits

H. Keith Sawyers
Peter Olshavsky
H. Keith Sawyers
Peter Olshavsky



  • 1950

  • 2003

    Design and construction

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H. Keith Sawyers, Peter Olshavsky, "Laboratory", [Omaha, Nebraska], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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