Shined-up vintage Airstream now ready for college, not camping

Preschool students pass by a renovated 1972 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht on Friday, April 10, 2015 in front of Marvin Hall. The old camper was renovated by Kansas University architecture students and transformed into KU’s “Mobile Collaboratory,” or moCOLAB. The moCOLAB had its first campus open house that day.

The massive dent on one end was immediately apparent. So was the permeating musty smell.

But a few other problems with the 1972 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht surprised Kansas University architecture students only after they started gutting the vintage trailer. Namely, mice falling out of the old ceiling when students started pulling it down.

“Yep, they were alive,” said Jessica Luber, a fourth-year architecture student from Kansas City, Mo., who was in a design-build class that refurbished the Airstream last year.

Kansas University students Asia Contee, left, and Nathalie Chow-yuen look over the wood interior of the 1972 Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht, which was fully renovated by KU architecture students.

With all mice evicted and set free, Luber said, the Airstream continued its transformation from blighted camping vehicle into KU’s “Mobile Collaboratory,” or moCOLAB.

The moCOLAB had its first campus open house Friday on the lawn of Marvin Hall, where students and community members trickled through for a close-up view.

Over the past year architecture students and professors Nils Gore and Shannon Criss gutted, cleaned and renovated the Airstream so its interior is now ready for research and displays. The School of Architecture, Design and Planning hopes to establish borrowing procedures to allow KU researchers and faculty to tow it around the state for public-interest projects involving Kansas communities.

Gore and Criss thought renovating an Airstream would be a “fun design-build project and something that we could use to support our own community-based, public-interest design projects,” Criss said in a news release from KU. After finding research partners through the KU Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, they applied for and received a Provost’s Strategic Initiative Level II grant to purchase the Airstream in September 2013.

Now the dent is hammered out, the musty odor is gone and there are no mice behind the blond wood panels lining the trailer’s interior — each one custom measured and pressed to fit its curve, Luber said.

The interior also is a little like a Transformer, and that’s on purpose.

Storage carts can be pulled out of their spots along the edge and unfolded into tables. Benches double as storage. And countertops fold down to hold displays or up to get out of the way.

“I’m most proud that it can be used for anything and not just exhibits,” Luber said.

Robert Castillo, a doctoral student in architecture who was checking out displays inside the moCOLAB on Friday, said he’d seen the trailer while it was still in progress.

He likened it to a “school on wheels.”

“It turned out great,” he said. “The outside still looks like an Airstream, so it’s kind of a surprise when you get inside.”