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Architecture Students Help Rebuild Greensburg

May 2, 2008

By David Sokol

This Sunday, May 4, marks the one-year anniversary of the EF-5 tornado that destroyed most of Greensburg, Kansas. As part of a town-wide green initiative, students from the state’s two architecture schools are lending a hand in helping residents rebuild using sustainable design principles and techniques.

Greensburg Cubed Image courtesy Greensburg Cubed

Kansas State University students hope to dot Greensburg with pods that embody ecologically responsible design.

Sustainable Prototype

Image courtesy Studio 804

University of Kansas architecture professor Dan Rockhillıs Studio 804 is developing Sustainable Prototype, a versatile prefabricated structure that could become the first building in Kansas to earn a LEED Platinum rating.
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University of Kansas architecture professor Dan Rockhill’s well-known Studio 804 is working with the nonprofit Greensburg Art Center to develop Sustainable Prototype, a versatile prefabricated building that deploys multiple passive and active sustainable design techniques. Meanwhile, a group from Kansas State University is dotting the small city with 10-foot pods – a project called Greensburg Cubed – that promise to educate locals about the ecologically responsible design to which municipal leaders have committed in a variety of high-profile announcements.

The University of Kansas’ contribution was constructed by Studio 804, a design-build program at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning that has a longstanding commitment to teaching economic and ecological sustainability. The 1,600-square-foot facility will contain wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, and other green technologies and could be the first building in Kansas to earn a LEED Platinum rating, according to Rockhill. The building was prefabricated in Lawrence, Kansas, using reclaimed materials from a retired storehouse at the state’s Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. Modules were then trucked to Greensburg, where class members assembled them over the course of several weeks. In addition to a multipurpose room, kitchen, and office space, the facility will house the town’s new 5.4.7 Art Center, opening May 4. The building was designed to be a community center for the ravaged town, Rockhill says. “These people are victims, they lost everything,” he explains. “We seized the opportunity to contribute.”

The fifth-year Kansas State students are building on expertise gained from the 2007 Solar Decathlon, which they entered with the University of Kansas. For the biannual Department of Energy competition, the team conceived and realized a demonstration house whose polygonal shape created a large, canted rear elevation facing the sun, which students clad almost completely in photovoltaic panels.

Whereas Project Solar House, as it was called, emphasized photovoltaics, the Greensburg Cubed pods pursue what Kansas State assistant professor Larry Bowne, AIA, calls a “holistic approach” to sustainability that combines passive strategies with features like salvaged materials and rainwater collection. Equally important, the installations will become teaching tools to residents and business owners “as a precursor to Greensburg’s sustainable mission, as many civic projects are months or years from realization,” Bowne says. For example, one cube dubbed “Green Haus” will exhibit green alternative structures, insulations, and interior and exterior finishes that could easily be adopted by locals. Students began fabricating the pods in late March, and the finished products—after making tour stops in regional cities—will be installed permanently in various parts of Greensburg.

Jenna M. McKnight contributed additional reporting for this story.

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