KU architecture students win international honor for eco-friendly house
photo by: Kathy Hanks
Keeping with the simplicity of the sleek, glass-walled house, a plain wreath hangs from the front door at 1224 E. 12th St.
In September Chad and Elissa Turner moved into the East Lawrence house that was designed and built by KU School of Architecture students enrolled in Studio 804. Months later, they find themselves enjoying the holidays in an awarding-winning home.
The house was recently one of 20 projects, out of 600 submitted internationally, to win the 2018 Residential Architect Design Award.
photo by: Kathy Hanks
The selected houses showcase the very best in residential design, according to the Journal of the American Institute of Architects, which hosted the competition. Studio 804 was awarded the “Custom Home Category of Less Than 3,000 Square Feet.”
The award-winning structure — a 1,500-square-foot primary house and its 500-square-foot accessory dwelling — was on the market for $479,000 last summer. Profits from the sale went back into the Studio 804 program.
The Turners fell in love with the house the moment they stepped through its doors.
“We had never seen anything like it before,” Elissa Turner said.
The Turners moved to Kansas from Maryland last summer for Elissa to attend the University of Kansas, where she is a doctoral student in special education. Chad Turner is a physician’s assistant.
“We loved the sustainable building materials they used,” Elissa said. “The solar panels on the roof cut down on all utilities, making it super affordable. It’s also highly insulated.”
photo by: Kathy Hanks
Dan Rockhill, KU’s J.L. Constant Distinguished Professor of Architecture, is the founder of Studio 804. The course is for graduate students who are entering the final year of KU’s Master’s of Architecture program. By the end of the year the students have experienced everything from collaborating on a concept and design through actual construction, Rockhill said.
“I started dabbling in the possibility of students getting more hands-on experience around 1995,” Rockhill said. By 2002 he had struck a deal with KU and formed the nonprofit organization.
“We have a project every year,” Rockhill said. “We are not subsidized by the university. This is run as a business, and we put the money back into the project.”
In the summer of 2007 students built the 5.4.7 Arts Center and community building in Greensburg after the south-central Kansas town was destroyed by a tornado. That project was pivotal for Rockhill and his students because it was the first building they did that was not a residence. The building was LEED Platinum certified. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
“It was the first LEED Platinum in the state and our first LEED Platinum building. We are now on our 12th and 13th LEED houses,” Rockhill said.
What’s important for Rockhill is that his students take away from their Studio 804 experience just how important it is that they contribute as architects to the fight against global warming and climate change. He said he did everything he could to help students learn to build in ways that are responsive to the environment.
Because of Studio 804, many of Rockhill’s students have gone on to become architectural leaders in sustainability, he said.
When he first started with Studio 804, students majoring in architecture generally had no idea of actual hands-on building.
“We have become the poster child of synthesizing their education,” Rockhill said. “It’s a chance to put into action the things they have been learning.”
He likens the hands-on project to medical students doing internships and residencies.
Rockhill has just compiled the Studio 804 projects into a 420-page five-pound book, “Studio 804 Design-Build: Expanding the Pedagogy of Architectural Education.”
The hefty coffee table tome reflects on all the projects from Greensburg to the contemporary homes students have built, including revitalizing buildings in East Lawrence.
photo by: Contributed photo
“It’s filled with photos and narratives,” Rockhill said. The book is sold at The Raven Bookstore, KU Bookstore and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art gift shop.
Winning the award was very gratifying, Rockhill said, because the students were competing with professionals. It was a blind submission; the judges didn’t know whose work they were reviewing.
He likes to imagine their surprise when they realized students had designed and built the project.