To give graduate architecture students experience designing and constructing houses and commercial buildings from the beginning, University of Kansas architecture professor Dan Rockhill started Studio 804.
In its 22 years, the nonprofit program has produced a project each academic year, including the 5.4.7 Arts Center in Greensburg, Kan., and John Iiams and Jenilee Borth-Iiams’ home in the Rosedale neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan.
The Iiamses’ home was the 10th built, Rockhill says, and the second to be certified LEED Platinum. Studio 804 has since built eight more LEED Platinum homes.
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Rockhill rattles off a list of some of the things students learn in the process: finding a site, understanding real estate and its costs, zoning issues, finding fabricators for custom materials, going through the permitting process with a municipality and creating designs that work with sites and orientation.
Rockhill admits that the Iiamses’ neighborhood might seem questionable to some people. Their home is fronted by a parking lot and a busy street. But it’s close to amenities.
“Young people are interested in being close to the (KU) medical center, the 39th Street corridor, not buying a fixer-upper, having something new and sustainable,” Rockhill says. “We found buyers for the previous … houses through connections. We never had to list them with a Realtor. They were all sold through word of mouth, and they were all in inner city neighborhoods.”
The Iiamses weren’t in the picture during the design and construction, so Studio 804 students decided what to build by creating a narrative for an imaginary client, Rockhill says. And a lot of that narrative was based on something rather unsexy.
“Quite honestly, a lot is based on appraisal,” Rockhill admits. “We had to have three bedrooms. What we fight is the appraised value, which is based on square footage. We were disappointed at the appraised value. I with met the appraiser at that house. And I said we had all those features that are highly sustainable (and listed them). And the guy said, ‘So?’
“He didn’t understand it, and there was no way for him to check it off on his appraisal sheet,” Rockhill adds. “I think some of that has changed now and the industry is starting to recognize that these kind of features are more important than they thought. At the time, it was hurtful though.”
Studio 804 has received dozens of national and international awards, including three American Institute of Architects Honor Awards, two Home of the Year awards from Architecture Magazine and multiple awards from Residential Architect, including the Grand Award in 2011.
Rockhill travels the world speaking about Studio 804, and he’s often asked how he keeps groups of young students with “fragile egos” invested in the projects each year. He has to push them hard, he says.
“These young people, the way they learn in traditional studio setting — they think the world is just waiting for their genius — when it’s really built on a team of people with a like-minded vision who have to get along,” he says. “They have to work with people and learn to depend on them, and it’s a unique balance you have to strike.”