From the Director

Today (July 16, 2011) we’ll celebrate the official opening of the Studio 804 building. Although the new building will signify the start of a physical location, the concept and activity of the Center for Design Research (CDR) has been active for some time.

Through its early days as the glass blowing facility, both the Barn and Farmhouse have served the Design Department in a number of ways. Most significant as it relates to the present mission of the CDR, it was at one time a classroom/teaching facility for Interiors and then the Industrial Design concentration.

Prof. Lance Rake for a number of years used the facilities to conduct his own version of industry sponsored projects ranging from wheelchair prototypes, to flying cars and outdoor camping tents.

When I came to interview for the Chair of the Department position, it was the then Dean who promoted the Chamney site as something that could be utilized by the department more efficiently in the future. It was probably that specific factor that swayed the decision to come to KU after a 40-year life in Southern California.

Although establishing the CDR took more than six years, it began its momentum in 2009 by the KU Endowment Association (KUEA) agreeing to a request to make the needed property improvements. Investing nearly $200K, all three buildings on the property received the needed window, roof and masonry repairs to make the facilities habitable.

Last year, new opportunities arose with the notice of Westar Energy bringing the smart grid to Lawrence. Over the course of the year, we became more involved in areas of engagement this new technology would create, and the partners it would bring with it.

It was not too long afterwards that I mentioned the possibility of Studio 804 developing a project at the site and was eagerly entertained by Dean Gaunt and Dan Rockhill. The design brief was pretty simple: 1. Design/make a place that would immediately convey to potential industry sponsors that we knew what we were doing because of its design features, 2. Pull out all the stops on technology that dealt with energy production/storage and use, 3. Serve a dual purpose as both a meeting/presentation venue as well as a working laboratory, 4. Be a place that is shared with the public to teach/inform about matters of sustainability and 5. Create a place that would catapult KU into the forefront of design, energy and sustainability research.

When the facility opens on Saturday, they would have done fulfilled this request, and more. The new facility will establish KU/CDR as one of the first electric charging vehicle stations for the public in the State of Kansas. It will also become one of the only certified “passive house” classifications for a commercial building in the country.

For the past year (five to six months of heavy construction) the students of Studio 804 have embodied the spirit for which all future CDR projects/initiatives will use as a benchmark for creativity, ingenuity, innovation, craftsmanship and – most importantly – extreme hard work and placing the importance of the final product above any/all personal needs. For this, their reward will be the life-long indebtedness of the CDR and all those who will use the facility.

The challenge now for the Center for Design Research will be to aspire to its goals and insure the activities conducted at the “mini-campus” are as meritorious as the celebration of its opening facility. The CDR will demand the bar be raised to meet the demands of all that utilize its resources, as well as create an environment that multi-disciplined, interdisciplinary initiatives are brought to fruition. The CDR will establish its place alongside – if not in front of – its other peer centers at other institutions of higher education.

The building opening will celebrate the efforts of Studio 804, but we need to remember the history of the innovative dairy farmer, Harold Chamney, the creative past projects at the Chamney Farm and the future the facility holds for all those who want to work for it.


Gregory Thomas
Professor | Design
Director, Center for Design Research
School of Architecture, Design & Planning
University of Kansas


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