Studio Visit: Studio 804

Studio 804 is a design/build program at the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Urban Planning. It provides hands-on designing and building opportunities for KU architecture students in their final semester of their degree. Focused on service leaning projects, Studio 804 has built a number of low-income housing in the blighted neighborhoods of Lawrence and Kansas City. Their efforts not only provide a service, but also help to elevate the awareness of architecture and urban planning in those communities.

Studio 804 prefab house
Photo courtesy of Studio 804

Most recently, the current class of 22 students have been working to design and build a modular structure that will serve as the Greensburg Art Center for the city of Greensburg, KS which was leveled by an F5 tornado on May 4, 2007.

UPDATE (9/22): The building is now completed and has been installed in Greensburg. Visit their website to see photos of the beautiful final structure!

Greensburg, KS post-tornado
Greensburg,KS post-tornado. Photo courtesy of FEMA.

On May 4, 2008, the students hope to complete the project to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the tornado. Their efforts have been well documented and reported (see the links listed at the end of this article), but I was excited to be able to see the “work in progress” in person and peak around their workspace which is located at the Farmland Industries site, a former nitrogen fertilizer plant built on the outskirts of Lawrence in 1954.

Entry gate

Arrival at the studio. The ominous entry gate is a flashback to the fertilizer days at Farmland. It’s also a safety and security measure for the property. Still, it’s a bit creepy.

Outside of factory

The property is vast with a number of buildings, holding tanks, and pipelines running through it. The 804 studio is housed in one of the former warehouses.

Warehouse from the outside

A view of the outside at night.

View of inside of warehouse

In this photo, you can start to get a feel for the size of the studio. Easily large enough to house the entire project which is the 5th prefabricated structure (Module 5) that Studio 804 has built.

Workers inside of the building

Here’s another view of Module 5 showing where the front door and south facing windows are going to go. One of the most significant (and also the most daunting) parts of this project is that they are trying to get this building LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certified, a first for the studio. Greensburg has been very ambitious in their efforts to rebuild as a environmentally sustainable city and has mandated that all city owned buildings larger than 4,000 sq. ft. are built to LEED-Platinum level. One of the most difficult parts of this process is the shear amount of record keeping and paperwork that needs to be submitted in order to meet the Platinum requirements.

Workers and insulation

Some of the “green” features of this building will include photovoltaic sun panels, wind turbines, a green roof, water saving plumbing, locally obtained building materials, and cellulose insulation, shown here, which is made up of recycled newsprint.

Reclaimed wood

In addition to this, the wood used for the sides of this project is all reclaimed lumber from one of the 1,000 abandon buildings left at the former Sunflower Army Ammunition plant. There is more information on the studio site about this, but a team of students took 5 days to disassemble over 7 tons of material and reclaim 10,000 board foot of lumber! They then had to take it to the studio, plane, cut and seal it for use as a skin for the outside of the building to help modulate the sun.

Wall Boards

This is what the skin looks like and it will be covered with an overlay of clear plastic material. Beautiful.

Wall of building

Walls of building

Man with drill


The building is referred to as “modular” because it is designed to be shipped in 7 segments and then reassembled once it reaches Greensburg where it will be fitted for utilities and additional details will be added.

Sectional divider

You can see one of the clear dividing lines of one of the sections.

Warehouse Doors

How will they get this out of there, you ask? Well, this photo shows the garage-style door (on the left) that they’re hoping to use, but it’s likely that they’ll need to cut a larger hole in the wall to get the sections out.

Inside of building

This is a view of the interior of Module 5 looking at the east wall.

Hammer on the floor

Inside of building

This is a view looking the other direction towards the small office space. There will also be a small bathroom with a dual-flush toilet and a shower for bicycle commuters!

Floor drain mockup

This is a mock up of what they are wanting to do with the shower drain. It hadn’t occurred to me, but just like designers, they have to make test runs of different materials to make sure it will look and function they way they are supposed to.

Mockup of building materials

A sample that shows the plastic covering over the siding.

Mockup of gutter

Here is a mock up of the guttering system. Just enough of a piece to see if it’ll work properly.

View of Shop from above

An aerial view of the mock up and cutting area. It’s a great space.

Math on a board


There is also a classroom setup in the back where the students can meet and talk about their progress. There’s a space heater in here since the warehouse has no heating which tells you a lot about the dedication of these students in the middle of the winter!

View of Shop

View of shop from above

Workers around a table

It’s important to note that this project is not a donation to the city of Greensburg, although the city is receiving an incredible deal. Studio 804 has accepted donations to help cover the costs as well as donated building materials. In addition, all of the labor is free, so the overall cost to Greensburg is greatly reduced. To help contribute donations to the project you can contact the studio for more information.

Wood cutting table

For more information on Studio 804’s Greensburg project visit:

Update (4/30): Here’s a great video on the “green” features of the Studio 804 Art Center from CBS news. It’s neat to see it in place down in Greensburg!