Crimson, blue and green all over: The KU Center for Design Research

Open house showcases innovative building

Recent Kansas University architecture graduate Sarah Brengarth showed off the environmentally friendly features of the restrooms at the open house Saturday for the Center for Design Research building.

The benefits of many of the features were obvious: low-water toilets that use rainwater, recycled steel, and super-efficient hand dryers.

But no mirror by the sink?

That one’s based on research showing that people use more water when washing their hands if they have the option of admiring themselves.

The no-mirror innovation was one of many interesting things the students — enrolled in a year-long course known as Studio 804 — were able to explain to community members Saturday about the recently completed center.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, hundreds lined up for tours of the facility, as eager graduates, who received their master’s degrees in May, talked about their work.

The turnout was a pleasant surprise for Studio 804 professor Dan Rockhill.

“It’s been fantastic,” he said. “We were wondering if we’d have 50 people, and I think we’ve had 500.”

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 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 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.

Students broke ground on the center in February and hustled in 100-degree heat to get it ready for Saturday’s open house.

It was all worth it, said graduate Brian Winkeljohn, who was all smiles as he explained the water reclamation system he helped design on the outside of the building.

“Many, many hours of sweat,” he said went into the project. But the system, utilizing catch basins and a 1,200 gallon cistern, means the building is self-sustaining in terms of water usage. The goal: No city water needs to be used at the center.

Winkeljohn and Brengarth both said it was nice to appreciate their hard work and share with the community.

“You really don’t appreciate what you’ve accomplished until you step back,” Brengarth said.