KSU architecture students help town rebuild eco-friendly


The small town of Greensburg, Kan., was devastated by an F5 tornado – the largest and most dangerous kind – on May 4, 2007. Now, almost a year later, the city has begun the rebuilding process in an unconventional way, and the K-State Department of Architecture is lending a helping hand.

Aaron Vanderpool, fifth-year student in architecture, said Greensburg is working to make its town the first green community in the nation. Architecture students are assisting by developing complexes to help educate community members on ways to create sustainable and environmentally friendly homes, offices and facilities as they rebuild.

The project is called Greensburg Cubed, and the complexes are just that – 10-by-10-by-10 foot mobile cubes. Each cube, or pavilion, provides information on a different aspect of sustainable living – which includes what green building materials are available, how to use them and where to purchase them – and will be on display in various areas in Greensburg, Vanderpool said.

The architecture students working on the project started with ideas for 11 different cubes, he said, and after extensive planning and research, narrowed it down to three, which they have begun constructing.

“As we continued to refine different ideas,” Vanderpool said, “we really sat down and thought, ‘What can we feasibly do? What materials do we already have?’ And we only had a month and a half left, so we decided on three.”

The three chosen for completion, which will debut in the town on the anniversary of the tragedy, are the Green Haus, the Recycling Bin and the Ice Cube. A fourth cube, the Litter Box, will be constructed and hopefully completed during an architecture intercession course this summer, said Larry Bowne, assistant professor of architecture.


The Green Haus has been designed to educate contractors and community members on how to construct a home comparable to those LEED certified, Bowne said, without having to go through the certification process.

“It’s very difficult for private property owners to get LEED certified,” he said. “Greensburg asked us to put together a checklist cube, to learn how to be compliant without going through process of LEED.”

Bowne said the goal of the cube is to give Greensburg citizens a place where they can learn about the available materials and technologies for rebuilding primarily single-family homes like insulation technologies, water storage and innovative building materials and systems.

Prior to the tornado, Bowne said, there was no recycling program in Greensburg. The community is striving to create a comprehensive program, and the Recycling Bin is offering comprehensible ways to do so.

“We’re going to make a pavilion that has several recycling bins,” he said. “The whole pavilion will be portable so they can take it to high school games, county fairs – whatever public events happen in town –

and folks will know how to recycle their things.”

Bowne said the cube also demonstrates what can be made with recycled materials, and as much as possible, students are building the Recycling Bin and the other cubes with reclaimed and recycled materials.

The Ice Cube idea originally began in the architecture studio before the Greensburg efforts as a research project and attempt to show how students in a university setting could make an appropriate response to natural disasters and human tragedies by providing clean water, Bowne said.

“The idea originated out of that research effort, and the thought that once a town has been destroyed, it might not have access to fresh drinking water,” he said.

The Ice Cube is a portable station where people can go to get fresh water and cool off using filtered rainwater. Not only is it great for disaster sites, Bowne said, the cube is appropriate for any occasion or event where water is needed, like in army deployments or summer music festivals.

Though Greensburg no longer has a desperate need for fresh water, he said it still will be used as a public water station in areas like parks and fairgrounds “so that people rebuilding the town can get drinking water and use the myster.”

The Litter Box, though not part of the G-cubed project to be completed next month, will be constructed and completed by architecture student volunteers in the summer intercession class, Bowne said. The cube is a portable bathroom that demonstrates low-water use sinks and showers as well as a composting toilet with water reclamation systems.

“It’s meant to show how citizens can use plumbing fixtures that don’t have such an environmental pull,” Bowne said.


In the fall, Vanderpool said the students working on G-cubed completed their first sustainable project – a solar house – and entered it in an architectural competition in Washington, D.C., which he said was a lot of fun.

“After that, we’d been talking about wanting to do another design-build project, but we didn’t know what it was going to be,” Vanderpool said. “But then, it just kind of clicked that it should obviously be something in Greensburg. It’s for people in Kansas, so it just kind of fit.”

Though the students learned a lot from the solar house project, Andy Becker, fifth-year student in architecture, said each student has a lot more stock in the Greensburg project.

“We were able to design [the cubes] from the beginning, and it’s a project of our own, whereas with the solar house, we were taking over from the last group,” he said.

Another difference between the two projects is time. G-cubed is operating on a much smaller time scale – a single semester – while the solar house project was allocated for two years. But that time crunch has not put a damper on the project or the students’ spirits.

“One of the most exciting things is that normally, a project like this might take somewhere from eight months to a year,” Becker said. “But we’ve been able to supersede the process a little bit, compress everything down and really work at a pace that allows us to do everything from start to finish this spring semester.”

Becker said the project has been “fantastic” and the perfect mix of what he has been wanting through the architecture school. Where architecture students are typically confined to computers, these students are getting hands-on experience.

“It’s got all the elements that you will need in real life to succeed as an architect – coming from the design phase to conceptually understanding what it is that’s appropriate to do, what you want to do, and what would be exciting to do, and flushing out details through construction documents and structural calculations,” he said, “which is where we’re at now – construction.

“It’s really fulfilling to see everything coming together … We’re out here in the shop, putting everything together and getting ready to make something happen in reality for this town in Greensburg. It’s pretty great.”