KU architecture students are building a small house with big ambitions

LAWRENCE — Dirt Works Studio, an academic design-build studio at the University of Kansas School of Architecture & Design, has designed and is currently building Phoenix House, a small, solar-powered house designed to assist members of the Lawrence community in transitioning from houselessness to a secure home.

Interior view of Phoenix House. Image courtesy of Dirt Works Studio

Working in collaboration with Tenants to Homeowners Inc. (TTH), a Lawrence nonprofit that has helped more than 350 families become homeowners, Dirt Works Studio aims to provide TTH with a repeatable model for a home that can provide comfort and stability for occupants as they work to reach personal goals.

Dirt Works Studio allows third-year KU architecture students to explore innovative new methods of construction while serving the local community.

KU students work on the exterior of Phoenix House in Lawrence. Image courtesy of Dirt Works Studio

“The mission of Dirt Works Studio balances 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,” said Chad Kraus, associate professor of architecture and founding director of Dirt Works Studio.

Phoenix House has been designed using an innovative cross-laminated timber (CLT) shell, wrapped in a highly insulated, airtight building envelope, and clad with a wood rain screen. Designed to accommodate 1-2 people, the home's interior is characterized by durable materials and surfaces, including CLT timber walls and ceilings and exposed concrete floors with radiant floor heating. Wood surfaces were prioritized for aesthetics and as a natural solution for humidity regulation. The color, tactility and smell of wood, along with its positive effects on interior air quality, have documented regenerative and stress reduction outcomes.

“This partnership exemplifies how innovative design, education and service-based learning can be advanced through public/private partnerships,” said Nicholas Ward, TTH assistant director. “Through Phoenix House, TTH has the unique opportunity to learn from these young, enthusiastic designers. The designers, in turn, are offered a glimpse into the world and work of affordable housing from their partners at TTH. When the designers of tomorrow are informed by the struggles of today, their work can’t help but to be infused with empathy. A great partnership, to say the least.”

Phoenix House carries on the hands-on, experiential learning focus of KU's architecture & design school. For more than three decades, students have learned to envision, design and construct innovative built works. KU student design-build projects have included LEED Platinum and net-zero energy buildings, modular furniture systems, accessible community parks, a mobile grocery store and many other impactful projects.

Phoenix House is located on the 1100 block of Oregon Street in Lawrence. The home is expected to be completed in late spring this year.

Student Reese Gilmore of Leawood said that working directly with neighborhood residents to create something that gives back to the local community has been a fulfilling experience. 

“The process of designing and building an affordable home has presented many challenges but has also provided unforgettable experiences, such as working with peers, engineers, suppliers and partnering with Tenants to Homeowners to make a one-of-a-kind affordable small home,” Gilmore said.

Spring 2024 Dirt Works Studio students include Gilmore; Corrie Bolton, Fulton, Missouri; Julia Bond, Kansas City, Missouri; Grace Beirne, St Louis; Morgan Campbell, Overland Park; Makenna Dawson, Blue Springs, Missouri; Hayley Ford, Olathe; Aidan Hall, Downers Grove, Illinois; Alyda Hunnicutt, Leawood; Morgan Kime, St Louis; Spencer Landis, Fenton, Missouri; Adin Mehanovic, Kansas City, Missouri; Samantha Weidner, Barnhart, Missouri; and Amanda Willen, Florissant, Missouri.

For more information about the project, contact Chad Kraus, KU; or Nicholas Ward, Tenants to Homeowners.

Mon, 04/22/2024


Dan Rolf

Media Contacts

Dan Rolf

Architecture & Design