KU architecture students are finalists in international competition to build zero-energy home

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KU architecture students this weekend unveiled Haven Studio, a house powered by renewable energy that they designed and built from the ground up. 

Under the guidance of Chad Kraus, associate professor of architecture, the third- and fourth-year students in Dirt Works Studio have been working on the project since 2021. They built Haven Studio as an entry into the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Build Challenge. Dirt Works is one of 11 teams from around the world competing in the prestigious sustainability competition.

The Solar Decathlon invites collegiate students from around the world to build complete, functional homes in their communities to demonstrate creative solutions for real-world issues in the building industry.

Dirt Works built Haven Studio accordingly, with innovative features that minimize embodied and operational carbon. These features include rooftop solar panels; countertops made from compressed paper, a material often used in laboratory settings for its heat and moisture resistance; and a tightly sealed building envelope to maximize energy efficiency.

“The mission of [this] competition aligns beautifully with the mission of KU’s Design-Build program,” Kraus says. “This includes balancing care for our local communities, concern for the health of the planet, and a dedication to educate future leaders in the design of a more sustainable, equitable, and inspired built environment.”

The team will present their work at the big Solar Decathlon Competition Event this week, held at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. But the true work is far from over, says Liz Fraka, student team lead for Haven Studio. Projects like this are just the beginning of a more sustainable future, as they provide the next generation of architects with practical, on-the-ground training.

“There really is no architectural future if we don’t have sustainability integrated into everything that we’re doing,” Fraka says. 

Haven Studio is at 3813 Greenway Drive, adjacent to the University of Kansas School of Architecture and Design’s East Hills Design-Build Center. Learn more about Dirt Works Studio on the group’s Instagram page and on the School of Architecture website.

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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.

Check out her work at jrdnwntr.com. See more of her work for the Times here.

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