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Students Build Studio 804’s Latest House in Challenging Times

Many schools of architecture were shut down last spring because of Covid-19, but the Studio 804 program at the University of Kansas Department of Architecture is no ordinary architecture program. It does something very unusual for an architecture school: it actually teaches students how to build a sophisticated building from the ground up. “This includes everything from initial design including all systems, construction documents, estimates, working with zoning and code officials, site layout, placing concrete, framing, roofing, siding, setting solar panels, landscape and more — there isn’t anything we don’t do ourselves.”

 Studio 804

The houses are always interesting modern designs that cannot be too unconventional or expensive as they are then sold on the open market. The 2020 version is 1550 square feet, plus a 520 square foot accessory dwelling unit.

 Studio 804

The main house has the entry facing a living wall, a great room with kitchen to one side and two bedrooms to the other.

“The design was inspired by the Midwestern farmstead vernacular of the region. These timeless vernacular qualities house all the accommodations necessary for modern, sustainable living. A unique feature of this house is the Accessory Dwelling Unit permitted in the zoning district. It is a small separate residence on the same lot that can be used for income property or for extended family members. It also supports the city of Lawrence’s goals of increased density close to downtown rather than continued sprawl into the countryside.”

Given that Covid-19 has disrupted the construction industry as well as the school year, it’s impressive that Studio 804 was able to complete this project on schedule. Studio 804 founder Dan Rockhill tells Treehugger how they coped: “We had to isolate for two months, March April. All the students came back and actually graduated as we pushed hard to finish up so we could have an open house on June 27th.”

Selling the houses can sometimes be a problem, due to the vagaries of the market, but Rockhill notes that the house sold in early August.

Wall and roof are the same material.
 Studio 804

The houses have the vernacular form of midwestern farmsteads, looking like a collection of buildings. A difference from the vernacular is the cladding. Instead of the usual wood siding and metal roof, both surfaces are clad in Fundermax, a very sophisticated material fabricated in the Austrian town of Sankt Veit an der Glan. “It is a composite material of raw pulpwood, recycled wood, and natural resins produced with the energy of renewable fuels. This recipe makes for a highly durable exterior wall cladding product that resists the natural elements and requires minimal maintenance that will not discolor over its lifespan.” It’s been seen previously on Treehugger as the cladding of the Sustain Minihome.

Building section.
 Studio 804

It’s somewhat unusual to build a roof as a rainscreen like this, and there is a gap behind it with a 24-gauge standing seam roof underneath, which drains into a concealed gutter.

 Studio 804

It’s an interesting way to build, and it results in a really simple, elegant building form. It’s like an inversion of what they built last year, where they brought standing seam roofing down the walls; this year, they bring wall cladding up the roof.

Solar panels on south-facing roof.
 Studio 804

As always, the houses are built to high standards of efficiency and to LEED Platinum certification. They have R-62 in the roof and R-35 in the walls, which appears to be sprayed in place cellulose behind an Intello moisture control membrane. It’s topped off with a 4.9 kW solar system.

Kitchen.
 Studio 804

Dan Rockhill and Studio 804 always design and build interesting and challenging houses to high environmental standards. But the real wonder of it all is that it is all done by students, learning on the job, especially this year, with all the complications from Covid-19.

Students come out of this course not only with a degree in architecture, but the skills needed to actually put a house together, to relate to and talk to the trades, to understand how hard it is to build an airtight enclosure. We would have better buildings if every architect had to do this.

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