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KU Field Station's new Roth Trailhead wins two design awards

Monday, November 26, 2012

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LAWRENCE — A new trailhead structure, built earlier this year at the KU Field Station by University of Kansas architecture students, has won two design awards from the American Institute of Architects.

The structure, which emphasizes sustainable building techniques, primarily rammed earth, is known as the Stanley D. and Janet B. Roth Trailhead. It is the third project commissioned by the Field Station through the KU School of Architecture, Design and Planning. It serves as a gateway to two of the public nature trails that traverse part of the main area of the Field Station, north of Lawrence.

In late October, the Roth Trailhead earned Best in Show at the annual Monsters of Design Awards from the Young Architects Forum of the American Institute of Architects' Kansas City chapter. It also received an AIA Honor Award in the student work category of the annual Kansas Design Awards.

Ten third-year students, working under the direction of Chad Kraus, assistant professor of architecture, designed and built the structure as a class project during the spring 2012 semester. They worked into the summer to complete it.

"I was really impressed with the students' dedication," Kraus said. "On 'ram days,' when we created the walls, work started at 6 a.m. and frequently finished when the sun set, about 8 p.m. On some of those days the heat was extreme."

Although the official name of the course is Architectural Design IV, Kraus calls it the "Dirt Works Studio." The moniker refers to the structure's primary material. The students used the technique known as rammed-earth construction to create a 122-foot-long wall of eight sections. They started by harvesting dirt elsewhere on Field Station land. After mixing it with a small amount of cement and water, they placed it into wooden forms and compacted it using pneumatic tools.

The formwork later was removed to reveal smooth blocks of what appear to be horizontal layers of pink-, gray- and ocher-colored stone, which echo the region's geology. "The project is meant to serve as a reflection of the landscape," said Kraus.

The finishing touch is a canopy of rough cedar and steel. The charred cedar louvers, milled from recycled telephone poles donated from the Westar Energy Green Team, were inspired by the burning of the surrounding tallgrass prairie. The canopy was prefabricated at the East Hills fabrication shop of the School of Architecture, Design and Planning. From there it was taken to the trailhead site and assembled.

Kraus worked closely with Scott Campbell, associate director for outreach and public service at the Kansas Biological Survey, to develop the project concept.

"This project meant a lot to me personally because Stan Roth was my teacher at Lawrence High School," Campbell said. "I have great respect for him and Janet. For years, people whose lives they've touched have been looking for a way to honor their contribution to this community. This beautiful earthen wall, where two trails meet, at a place dear to the Roths, is just right."

Stan Roth taught biology in Lawrence high schools for 40 years beginning in 1959. He recruited Janet Beckner to join the Lawrence High School faculty as a biology teacher in 1962. Together they launched extracurricular group activities that included outdoor lessons and field trips.

The Roths have significant ties to KU. Stan served 22 years as an adjunct instructor in the School of Education and, since his retirement in 1998, has served as an adjunct naturalist with the Kansas Biological Survey. Jan worked in the Center for Research on Learning for 17 years and directed a national network for professional educators.

The Roth Trailhead structure and nature trail were made possible by donations to the Stan and Janet Roth Trail and Nature Education Fund at KU Endowment.

The KU Field Station totals about 3,400 acres across 10 tracts in Douglas, Jefferson and Anderson counties. It is managed by the Kansas Biological Survey, which was established at KU in 1911. The trails leading from the Roth Trailhead are part of a five-mile trail system across the northern tracts of the Field Station, which total about 1,800 contiguous acres. Amenities at the Roth Trailhead include a restroom and drinking fountain, patio areas and informational signage. Trails are open year-round, dawn to dusk.

"The Field Station isn't just for scientists," said Ed Martinko, director of the Kansas Biological Survey. "We want KU faculty and students in the arts, humanities and professional schools to know it is open and available to them as a resource for their study and enjoyment, too. We've been very pleased to provide a platform for Kraus and his students to explore their research and educational interests in sustainable technologies, and we look forward to new projects with the School."

The students who designed and built the Roth Trailhead structure are Pamela Gieseke, Chesterfield, Mo.; Mark Linenberger, Garden City; Hannah Dale, Olathe; Xiaorui Chen, Manhattan; Ben Peek, Ballwin, Mo.; Christina Henning, St. Louis; Katie Caufield, Manchester, Mo.; Matt Livingston, Belton, Mo.; Pat Bayer, Overland Park; and David Versteeg, Gelderland, Netherlands.

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