Nearly complete KU building to show off sustainable design

From cladding a wall to sweeping up construction dust, Kansas University architecture graduates were in an all-out hustle Thursday afternoon as they drew closer to the completion of the Center for Design Research building.

The students, who all graduated in May and were part of the year-long architecture course known as Studio 804, were preparing for Saturday’s open house, which will unveil a building like no other in the state.

“This is about as over-the-top as it can get for me,” Studio 804 professor Dan Rockhill said. 

Work continues on the Center for Design Research on Thursday, July 14, 2011. On Saturday, the public will be invited to tour the facility.

Work continues on the Center for Design Research on Thursday, July 14, 2011. On Saturday, the public will be invited to tour the facility. by Nick Krug

Located on KU’s West Campus, the elongated building covered in reclaimed limestone is integrated into the 80-year-old farmhouse and barn that was once part of the Chamney family dairy farm. 

The building is intended to transform the space into a showcase of sustainable design and green technology and provide a location for meetings, conferences and classes.

“It has been fun, but a lot of hard work. We have gone through a lot of pain,” said Allison Pinkerton, who is a third-year architecture masters student who graduated in May but remained at KU to finish the project. “It is really awesome to just see it come together.”

The group started researching and designing the building in August. 

Ground broke Feb. 10, a day that saw a record low of -12 degrees. To start work on the foundation, the group had to push the snow away.

That’s compared with this week, when the finishing work was being done in 100 degree heat. Between then and now, the students have put in 12-hour workdays, six days a week.

“A long haul” is how Pinkerton described the past couple of months — but one that was worth it.

“When we get done, we are all going to be relieved and want to celebrate,” she said.

Nearly every facet of the building is linked somehow to sustainable design. 

Recent graduate of the masters program for architecture, Allison Pinkerton, Grandview, Missouri, sweeps the steel plate floor in front of the "living wall," which is composed of various types of ferns.

Recent graduate of the masters program for architecture, Allison Pinkerton, Grandview, Missouri, sweeps the steel plate floor in front of the "living wall," which is composed of various types of ferns. by Nick Krug

Among the most impressive features is a 30-foot-by-12-foot interior wall covered by more than 10,000 fern. Known as a living wall, it is intended to improve the air quality inside the building and use gray water from the site.

“I hope people realize it is a fun space to be in. It is not a space you are supposed to be bored in,” recent graduate John Myers said. “It’s a building for learning.”

On the roof of the Center for Design Research are solar panels as well as plants to soften the sun's impact on the roof.

On the roof of the Center for Design Research are solar panels as well as plants to soften the sun's impact on the roof. by Nick Krug

The building also has a wind turbine, solar panels, an electric-vehicle charging station and plants on the rooftop to soak up rain and insulate the building.

The south-facing side of the building is lined with smart glass, which self-tints as the sun shines on it. Behind the glass is a Trombe wall, which will capture the sun’s heat on cold winter days and then release that heat at night. Inside the building is a touch-screen display that monitors the building’s energy inputs and outputs. It also has information on 24 of the building’s green features. 

“I would like the public … to have an opportunity to come here and look at these things and think about how they could change their own lives as well, implementing some of these very simple ideas,” Rockhill said.


Kate Penning, a graduate of the masters program for architecture works to construct the "trombe wall" on the south side of the interior of the Center for Design Research on Thursday, July 14, 2011. Bricks for the wall were hand-made by the students and were salvaged from quarries. The wall is designed to radiate heat from the sun during the winter.

Kate Penning, a graduate of the masters program for architecture works to construct the "trombe wall" on the south side of the interior of the Center for Design Research on Thursday, July 14, 2011. Bricks for the wall were hand-made by the students and were salvaged from quarries. The wall is designed to radiate heat from the sun during the winter. by Nick Krug

Event Information

At 10 a.m. Saturday, Studio 804 and the Kansas University Center for Design Research will hold an open house for the newly constructed building at 2455 Westbrooke Circle on KU’s West Campus. Along with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the open house will include students and faculty who will be on hand to discuss the building’s many sustainable features.

Brian Winkeljohn, a graduate of the masters program for architecture, cleans the glass exterior of the Center for Design Research.

Brian Winkeljohn, a graduate of the masters program for architecture, cleans the glass exterior of the Center for Design Research. by Nick Krug

Water gathered from the roof is taken down into the building through a system of pipes and is used in the facility's toilets.

Water gathered from the roof is taken down into the building through a system of pipes and is used in the facility's toilets. by Nick Krug

Recent graduate of the masters program for architecture, Justin McGeeney, Ames, Iowa, slides a glass panel to reveal what he calls "the brains of the building," the Center for Design Research that is, on Thursday, July 14, 2011. McGeeney explained that this is where energy levels produced by the wind turbine and also the solar panels are monitored.

Recent graduate of the masters program for architecture, Justin McGeeney, Ames, Iowa, slides a glass panel to reveal what he calls "the brains of the building," the Center for Design Research that is, on Thursday, July 14, 2011. McGeeney explained that this is where energy levels produced by the wind turbine and also the solar panels are monitored. by Nick Krug

A charging station for electric cars is available at the site and is free to the public.

A charging station for electric cars is available at the site and is free to the public. by Nick Krug

Dan Rockhill, distinguished professor of architecture at Kansas University, talks with guests to the Center for Design Research.

Dan Rockhill, distinguished professor of architecture at Kansas University, talks with guests to the Center for Design Research. by Nick Krug

Tagged: Center for Design Research, sustainable design, green technology, Studio 804

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