Submitted/Studio 804

An artist's rendering shows what the new Center for Design Research wwill look like. This view shows the center and the nearby Chamney Barn. The center will house a collaborative environment for research in sustainable energy.

A sustainable future

Students building center to explore new energy solutions

Grounds that were once home to a dairy farm that supplied milk to the city will soon be on the forefront of sustainable energy research. Next to a historic barn, a new center will house wind turbines, an electric vehicle charging station and a green roof.

Studio 804, the innovative design-build studio at the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, has broken ground on the Center for Design Research. The studio, led by Dan Rockhill, the J.L. Constant Distinguished Professor of Architecture, has completed plans and begun site excavations for the new center, an incubator for innovations in products and services. The facility, which will be one of the first LEED platinum-certified buildings on campus and in Lawrence, will be near the Chamney house and barn on Bob Billings Parkway, west of KU’s main campus.

The facility will be adjacent to the property’s existing buildings and will feature several wind turbines rising above the structure, a green roof and a vented wall that will promote cross ventilation in the summer and circulation of warm air in the winter.

The center also will feature an electric vehicle charging system that will open new avenues for research. Gregory Thomas, professor of design, said several faculty members have worked with Westar Energy to provide the facility with a smart grid meter. The smart meter will enable other “smart” appliances and technology, including the charging station, the first in Lawrence, to continually provide data on energy use at the site. Corporations such as General Electric are providing technology that will communicate with the smart meter and enable users to regulate the use of lighting, appliances, security and other tasks from within or outside the facility.

The center will encourage collaboration among faculty and students in many disciplines to address challenges and create new knowledge in sustainable practices in fields such as architecture, design, engineering and business. The facility will showcase new technologies and be open to the public to share knowledge developed at the center.

Submitted/Studio 804

This rendering shows another view of the Center for Design Research, set to be completed in May.

“By integrating green building materials and methods in every aspect of the design, construction and operation of the facility, a healthy environment promoting energy and resource efficiency can be achieved that will serve as a milestone in the university’s commitment to sustainable practices,” Studio 804 wrote in its project proposal.

Students in Studio 804 began designing the facility late last fall. They hope to have the project mostly complete by mid-May. Students will be involved in all aspects, including preparation of construction documents, obtaining proper city and state approvals, construction and raising funds.

“We do everything. In most cases we do almost every aspect of construction as well,” Rockhill said of Studio 804. “We give students a chance to synthesize their education by being involved in all aspects of such a project. It makes them better architects.”

The 22 students involved in the project are raising funds; no public money will be used. KU Endowment, the university’s fundraising and fund-management foundation, owns the land. Trustees for KU Endowment approved plans submitted by the school for the facility in February.

Each year, the studio designs and builds a structure. Students have constructed houses in Kansas City, Kan., neighborhoods and designed a community arts center — the state’s first LEED platinum-certified building — for Greensburg after it was devastated by a 2008 tornado. The projects have used innovative technologies such as wind turbines and photovoltaics to generate sustainable energy.

“We had trouble keeping people out of the basement, because everybody was so fascinated by what was going on there,” Rockhill said of Greensburg’s 5-4-7 Arts Center, which included sustainable energy technologies in its basement.

John Gaunt, dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, conceived the idea for Studio 804’s current project and said it will be a project that KU and the Lawrence community can be proud of.

“The university gains in the many ways that result from the realization of its educational mission in providing these students with an exceptional experience, possibly the very best of its kind,” Gaunt said. “It gains through this singular contribution to its collective excellence — in both substance and reputation. The community gains through the demonstration of what can be achieved through this extraordinary effort, including enhanced understanding of building methods, the achievement of sustainability and a broadened outlook concerning aesthetic possibilities.”

The former Chamney Dairy Farm is on KU’s west campus and was established in 1912. Harold Chamney was an influential community member, providing milk to hundreds of homes and local grocery stores. He was recognized by the state as one of 10 “Master Farmers of Kansas” in the 1930s.

“We saw a way to take advantage of a pretty unique location and share with the public some of the newest technologies,” Rockhill said. “I think this will contribute a lot to the conversation about sustainability and help show the university’s commitment to the community.”

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Sarah Seguin, assistant professor of electrical engineering
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