Studio 804

The faculty and students of the School of Architecture, Design, and Planning at the University of Kansas (KU) are continually challenging themselves with exciting projects. One of those projects that takes a decidedly green slant is Studio 804.

Studio 804 is a yearlong, comprehensive educational opportunity for graduate students who are entering the final year of the Master of Architecture program at the KU School of Architecture, Design, and Planning. During each academic year, students enrolled in the full-time class design and construct a building of great technical sophistication. The Department of Architecture’s J.L. Constant Distinguished Professor Dan Rockhill has led the studio since its inception in 1995.

Studio 804, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation committed to the continued research and development of sustainable, affordable, and inventive building solutions. This is done by examining, on all levels, the standards of human comfort and the nature of urban spaces. Studio 804 educates students through the experience of all aspects embodied by design/build, a delivery model that is gaining widespread interest in the architectural profession. With sustainability, affordability, and constructability dominating their collective interests, Studio 804 educates students using a hands-on approach, not only doing the design but also building it, often using new techniques developed through its own research.

For 17 years, Studio 804 has pioneered new technologies and advanced construction techniques to produce one building per year, including four LEED Platinum projects completed to date and two additional projects pending LEED Platinum certification. The studio operates out of the School of Architecture, Design, and Planning’s 67,000-sq.-ft. East Hills shop and fabrication facility, just outside Lawrence. The facility allows for much of the design to be prefabricated, an asset to each project’s intense schedule. It is through the support of organizations and individuals committed to environmental stewardship that Studio 804 is able to continue its service to the community and educate the general public through the use of innovative technologies.

Six Platinum Projects

Studio 804 has completed four LEED Platinum buildings in Kansas; a sustainable prototype for tornado-ravaged Greensburg, (the first LEED Platinum in the state), two residences in Kansas City, and the Center for Design Research on the KU campus in Lawrence. Galileo’s Pavilion at Johnson County Community College and the EcoHawks Research Facility at KU are pending LEED certification and will collectively give the Studio six LEED Platinum projects. They have also completed two Passive House Institute Certifications.

“We weigh heavily the environmental impact of our design decisions and take pride in leading the conversation about the need for environmental stewardship,” says Dan Rockhill, Studio 804’s leader. “Universities are about ideas and service to communities. Our role is to demonstrate the ideas and concepts that will propel us into a future that builds on the successes and mistakes of the past. Studio 804 hopes to share the vision of likeminded entities and foresees partnerships that enable them to achieve their mission. Together we can better the community through education and the development of affordable, sustainable, and energy-efficient buildings.”

The two most recently completed projects, the Center for Design Research and Galileo’s Pavilion, as well as the current project, the EcoHawks Research Facility, act as a platform for showcasing, interacting with, and educating students and the community alike about sustainable design technologies and new innovations in design research.

There are no architectural firms in the world that can boast of the run the studio has had at producing a LEED Platinum project every year over six consecutive years.

Center for Design Research

In 2011 Studio 804 designed and built the Center for Design Research (CDR), located on the historic Chamney Dairy Farm on KU’s west campus in Lawrence. The CDR is a response to the emerging culture and support of sustainability at KU. KU Endowment acquired this 130-acre property, house, barn, and outbuildings from the Chamney family in September 1963. In congruence with the center’s mission, which is to provide a location for interdisciplinary work between multiple schools, the building provides a facility that aids in the education of the University and community on sustainable strategies, material innovation, and building efficiency.

The design implements sustainable strategies to maximize the potential of existing resources; minimize environmental degradation; create an environment that is safe, comfortable, and efficient; and provide an iconic representation of sustainability for the University. Through the implementation and expression of sustainable systems, the building provides a space for professional collaboration and community education while displaying a wide range of sustainable strategies. In doing so, it showcases the advances of green building technologies and products, serving as a standard for the future development of the University and CDR.

Noteworthy features include an underground cistern that helps to reduce potable water demands and stormwater runoff while also supplying the toilets. A 34-ft.-long wall planted with ferns purifies the indoor air. The real-time energy performance of a wind turbine and rooftop photovoltaic panels is revealed by an interactive display in the lobby. A façade of local limestone insulates the building envelope and absorbs heat inside a Trombe wall formed by it and the glass south façade. The Studio used limestone taken from quarry dumpsites that were the waste produced from the manufacturing process, commonly referred to as tailings. In all, over 100 tons of limestone tailings were cut and repurposed by the students for use in the CDR. The first electric car charging station in the region was also installed here.

Galileo’s Pavilion

The goals of the Johnson County Community College (JCCC) Center for Sustainability, combined with the need for additional classrooms at the ever-expanding College in Overland Park, KS, gave the 2012 Studio 804 class a unique opportunity to create inspired learning spaces which also serve as an information center for the campus and community at large. The program called for two “inspired” classroom spaces as well as a student lounge that would serve as a teaching tool for the college’s faculty to educate their own students about sustainable design.

JCCC’s strategic plan calls for the College to champion environmental sustainability in curriculum and in the College’s infrastructure, transforming the physical campus into a living learning laboratory. With these goals in mind, Galileo’s Pavilion was designed to take advantage of the daily and seasonal cycles of nature to passively heat, cool, and daylight the building as well as supply electricity and utility water.

The façade of the pavilion is clad in slate panels reclaimed from chalkboards and large glass panels reclaimed from an unfinished building project (not the Studio’s) on the Plaza in Kansas City. Other design features include the use of passive heating and cooling systems such as thermal mass, rainwater harvesting, and green roof trays, in addition to energy-producing systems such as photovoltaic panels and a wind turbine. Galileo’s Pavilion is expected to be Studio 804’s fifth LEED Platinum building.

EcoHawks Research Facility

EcoHawks, a student research program run by the University of Kansas School of Engineering, focuses on alternative energy for transportation. The rapid expansion of the program has led to the need for a new facility to showcase the EcoHawks’ research, providing the current Studio 804 class with an opportunity to continue its tradition of designing and constructing high-quality, innovative, and sustainable buildings. The similar ideologies and goals of both the EcoHawks program and Studio 804 make the collaboration of the two groups a natural partnership.

The iconic building will aid in the research, fabrication, and refurbishment of electric vehicles. The EcoHawks Engineering Research and Teaching Facility will contain designated areas for computer workstations and prototype testing. High-bay fabrication spaces will be completely glazed to allow visitors to view research in progress and allow for maximum visibility and solar gain. To offset the high heat transfer and improve energy performance, Studio 804 is developing a system to raise and lower aerogel panels behind the glass façade. The Studio is working closely with seven different corporations to bring about the innovative technology that will minimize nighttime heat loss in larger commercial buildings with glass façades. Using passive and active sustainable systems and technologies, the building is intended to be Studio 804’s sixth LEED Platinum building.

For more information on Studio 804, visit