A new chapter of education and research at Kansas University was opened this past Saturday with the ribbon-cutting of the new KU Center for Design and Research. Located on the south side of Bob Billings Parkway, near its intersection with Westbrooke Road, this unique and stylish building probably houses more equipment and technology focused on protecting and sustaining the environment and our natural resources than any other single building in the country.
There is nothing like it in this part of the nation. It will serve as a laboratory, classroom and teaching facility for the university and will help educate the public about sustainable materials, research and building techniques.
The building is located on the former Chamney Dairy farm near the farm’s landmark silo and stone barn. Those at the Center for Design Research believe their new facility will help break down the many “silos” that currently separate many disciplines within the university.
One of the main areas of research will be smart meters and how these devices will be used to monitor energy usage in our homes, businesses and automobiles. The wise and efficient use of natural resources, recycling, new industrial design, building materials, engineering and public education all are a part of the center.
The project was created under the direction of Dan Rockhill, KU professor of architecture and director of Studio 804, a group of about 20 KU graduate students in architecture and engineering who did a major part of the design and construction. The overall project falls under John Gaunt, dean of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, with professor Greg Thomas serving as director of the center. Thomas, Gaunt and Rockhill share challenging visions for the center and how it will open new areas of groundbreaking research and study for university faculty and students and be a new and exciting facility to help educate the public.
One disturbing facet of the Center for Design Research building is the decision by university officials to build a 30,000-square-foot building for the Facilities Operations department immediately south of the new research building. Evidently, the KU Endowment Association gave its approval to use this piece of Endowment land.
There are plenty of other sites for the FO building and this open, attractive green space should be reserved for the likely expansion of the design research program. It would be a serious mistake to use this beautiful area for the FO building. Although there has not been any public discussion of the future of the CDR program, there is reason to believe it will grow with a cluster of small, low-profile buildings forming a mini-campus on the current tranquil greenspace.
Why not tear down the ugly, pre-fab FO buildings that line the south side of Bob Billings Parkway north of the Lied Center and put the new building at that location. Or how about finding space in the large FO footprint located west of the CDR building? If there is genuine concern about protecting and preserving the beauty of the campus, it would be a mistake to place a large office building in this prime education/research location.