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There has been a trend toward empty nesters and retirees moving from the suburbs back to the urban amenities and proximities the suburbs do not offer.  This house is on a north facing corner lot in a historic neighborhood and is a short walk from a grocery store, grade school, a community center and the cultural vibrancy of downtown Lawrence, Kansas.  It is a 2 bed, 1600 sf house that features an air tight, highly insulated thermal envelope, efficient light fixtures and appliances as well as a high performance mechanical system.  These design characteristics in combination with a photovoltaic array on the roof and the proper orientation to take advantage of the sun and wind will assure the owner little or no energy costs over a calendar year. This all was accomplished while meeting the design requirement to build within the environs of a listed historic property nearby.

The house occupies a lot and a half and the extra space offered the opportunity to generously engage the site.  Three gable forms create a south facing courtyard that is the focal point of the design as nearly every room opens to it through full height windows. The courtyard is open to the sun but protected from the north winds meaning it will maximize its use throughout the year.  It also includes a rain garden that collects the storm runoff to support the growth of native plants and to allow the water to absorb into the subsurface of the site.

The north gable holds the living room and the two bedrooms, it opens to the courtyard and the concrete floors hold the heat from the sun that penetrates the space when it is desired through the large windows that open to the courtyard.  The western gable is adjacent to the alley and holds the one car garage and storage. Between it and the north gable is a concrete tornado shelter. The eastern gable is connected to the north gable by an entry foyer and houses a large kitchen and dining area. It is the social heart of the residence and has views to the rest of the house, the courtyard and the street.

The unassuming forms, the standing seam roof, the half round gutters and the minimal trim detailing at the openings are all done to emphasize the visually rich texture of the horizontally run cedar which was reclaimed from railroad bridge trestles that have been dismantled by the logging industry.

Technical Description

With a very few exceptions all of this work is built by the students. From the moment a Studio 804 class gathers in August the work is hands-on.  Even the design phase includes working on mock ups.  We do everything ourselves; the students are on site every day working on the excavation, pouring concrete, framing walls, welding steel, laying masonry, installing roofing, folding flashings, and setting windows and doors. We run plumbing lines and set fixtures, and we even do work on the mechanical systems and as electricians.   In short, there is little about building the students won’t have a chance to experience during a Studio 804 project.




  • LEED Platinum Targeted
  • The house is exceptionally air tight and captures all the heat produced by daily activities such as cooking and showering. It filters it and reuses it to heat the house. The building also needs much less cool air during the summer to keep the spaces comfortable as it acts like a thermos and does not allow the cool air to escape.
  • The entire building envelope, including the concrete floor, is super insulated and dramatically exceeds code requirements.
  • The house uses high efficiency LED light fixtures, mechanical systems and plumbing fixtures to minimize the use of resources.
  • High performance triple paned windows are used to meet the passive house standards.
  • The building’s orientation and the locations of the openings promote cross ventilation for cooling.
  • Storm water is captured in a bioswale at the end of the courtyard.
  • All of the materials, paints, flooring, sealants and adhesives used inside the addition emit low or no volatile organic compounds.
  • The standing seam room supports the PV panels that allow the building to require net zero energy over a calendar year.
  • Net metering is used to credit the owners when the building is generating more energy than it is consuming.
  • A brush on air/moisture/vapor barrier is used to achieve the envelope performance required for passive house certification.
  • The house has extensive operable windows located so fresh air can easily be circulated through the house when the weather accommodates.
  • The cedar board siding was reclaimed from railroad bridge trestles that have been dismantled by the logging industry.
  • The house promotes carbon sequestration by using sustainably harvested wood for both the structure and the finishes throughout.






Project Start:2015