Whitney Hale


College: Design

From Harlan to Paducah, UK Design Helps Improve KY Communities

Published: Dec 4, 2012

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 4, 2012) — Building on the success of such Kentucky real world projects as the Henderson Project, which saw University of Kentucky students and faculty working with the city and county to redevelop HMPL#1 (Henderson Municipal Power and Light Plant No. 1), a retired coal fired power plant, the UK College of Design is wrapping up a year that has seen much acclaim for varied work in communities across the Commonwealth.


Just in the calendar year alone, the college has helped complete two homes from the Houseboat to Energy Efficient Residences project, proposed an arts trail connecting six northern Kentucky communities on the Ohio River, finished the development of a 150-year plan for the future use of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, created proposals for a Water Innovation Center for Louisville, and most recently compiled new design ideas for a Harlan County arts venue.  


January of 2012 saw the completion of a prototype for a house by students and faculty in UK College of Design who used research and work from the classroom to provide a low-cost, energy efficient housing option to Kentuckians, while helping houseboat industry workers expand their skill set to building houses on dry land.


Houseboat to Energy Efficient Residences (HBEER) is a partnership between the UK College of Design, the Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) at UK, the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation (KHIC) and the Kentucky Housing Corporation (KHC).


The multi-year project, initiated in the fall of 2009, directly responds to the impact the economic downturn has had on the houseboat manufacturing industry in the Commonwealth. More than 50 students and faculty at the UK School of Architecture were responsible for researching and developing initial models of energy-efficient, affordable housing that could be produced by the region's houseboat manufacturers.


With the implementation of the HBEER project, the college has helped create green jobs and bring back to work some of the 575 skilled workers and 1,000 related jobs that were lost in the houseboat manufacturing and marine industries due to the economy.


"This project meets a multitude of needs in our region, by putting families back to work, providing energy-efficient housing, increasing the demand for Kentucky-made products, and creating a hands-on learning experience in the classroom," Congressman Hal Rogers said, at a ribbon-cutting for the first home. "Additionally, it highlights the great success we can achieve when partners join resources for the benefit of families across the state."


Two buyers completed the steps to qualify for affordable, permanent financing in the two initial HBEER prototypes in Monticello and Goldbug, Ky. In this applicant driven process, the homes were occupied as soon as the financing was arranged. 


Highlights of the HBEER project include:

  • Estimated energy costs at current rates are expected to be about $1.65 per day, which is one-half to one-sixth of energy bills for other housing alternatives.
  • More than 80 percent of each home value was derived from products made in Kentucky and Kentucky labor, which further increased the jobs created or saved.
  • When the partnership began in 2009, Stardust Cruisers had 12 full-time employees and 12 contract workers. As of January 2012, Stardust had 56 full-time employees, including six who were dedicated to the HBEER project. As a result of this project, Stardust also has improved the energy efficiency of its houseboats and is one of the few houseboat manufacturers exporting new products.

The next phase of the HBEER project includes a prototype for multifamily housing, as well as classroom space for schools as an energy efficient and more durable alternative to portable classrooms.


"The transfer of knowledge and expertise gained during the HBEER project traces the path of an arc leading directly from design research conducted at the University of Kentucky to design products meant to address important energy and economic needs of communities in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and beyond,” said UK College of Design Dean Michael Speaks.



Video courtesy of REVEAL Research Media.


That same month students at the UK Department of Historic Preservation unveiled plans for the "Northern Kentucky Historic Art Spaces Trail" at Circus Mojo, a clown school housed in a historic former theater in Ludlow, Ky. Under the direction of Douglas Appler, the Helen Edwards Abell Endowed Chair in Historic Preservation, the studio identified several historic buildings being used as art spaces in several cities along the Ohio River and developed a trail of the sites to help encourage tourism and economic development in the region.


Appler's historic preservation studio presented the "Northern Kentucky Historic Art Spaces Trail" as part of the UK College of Design "River Cities" project, which has partnered with the development corporation Catalytic Development Funding CorporationVision 2015, a Northern Kentucky nonprofit; and Culture Now, a Suprastudio project organized by Thom Mayne at University of California, Los Angeles.


As part of the proposed trail, UK students identified 47 historic buildings that are currently being used as art spaces in Ludlow, Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Dayton and Fort Thomas. Each student in the UK studio chose three of the buildings and carried out documentary research on the site, sifting through tax records, city directories, historic maps and other resources to develop a history for each space.


To supplement their research, and to understand the current social context surrounding these historic structures, the students interviewed the buildings' current owners or tenants using the spaces. These interviews helped shed light on the relationship between the historic space and its modern use and on the role of the arts in the redevelopment of the Northern Kentucky region.


In addition, the students were able to identify opportunities for new partnerships, programs and activities that might improve the ability of the arts organizations to act as an agent of change in this region.


From the evaluation of this research, the students developed a proposal for a "Northern Kentucky Historic Art Spaces Trail." "The objective of the project is to change the way people think about Northern Kentucky, its arts community and its historic building stock," Appler said. "Viewed in isolation from each other, no single city featured in the proposal carries quite enough weight to make people think of Northern Kentucky as an arts hub, or as a center for creative activity. But when the cities are framed together as a group, it becomes clear that the region actually presents an unusually wide range of opportunities to experience the arts, and to do so in some fascinating historic spaces. But you only see that if you look at the region as a whole, rather than at its component parts."


Paul Miller, a former Ringling Brothers clown and owner of Circus Mojo, was excited by how the arts trail proposal has created partnerships that will benefit his business and his community. "The Northern Kentucky community straddles a lot of places, and is often lumped in with Cincinnati," Miller said. "This project has already brought needed attention to Circus Mojo, from civic leaders and other business owners, and I think it has a lot of potential to really help the arts in this community thrive."


In April, students from the UK College of Design unveiled a 150-year plan for the closure, clean up and future use of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, located near Paducah, Ky. Considered one of the most contaminated sites in the nation, the students presented a proposal for the site as a future technical and industrial hub to the United States Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Environmental Management at the National Chairs Meeting, held April 17-19, in Paducah. The national meeting held every two years brought together approximately 40 leaders associated with Paducah's Citizens Advisory Board and seven other Site-Specific Advisory Boards from around the nation.


The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant once provided several thousand high-paying jobs, which have diminished over the years and will soon be eliminated upon the plant's closure. As the point of origin for much of the fissile material bound for both energy and defense during the last 60 years, the site now finds itself with a four-mile long heterogeneous plume of contaminants running beneath it.


Rather than see job losses and legacy contamination as problems and causes for the region’s demise, UK students looked at those problems as the basis for a solution.

As a major example of service learning at UK, students participating in "The Paducah Project," led by Gary Rohrbacher and Ann Filson of the UK School of Architecture, proposed a new economy generated by the complex process of cleaning up the site. The studio developed scale models of the site’s geographical features, its subsurface conditions, and the groundwater contaminant plumes.


The models from UK are to be used as a tool to provoke conversation and debate among scientists and the public, with the hope of stimulating progress toward removing and abating the groundwater contamination and its sources, enabling a regeneration of the site and region.


This College of Design project builds upon previous work and research done at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant by a collaboration of partners at UK, including the Kentucky Research Consortium on Energy and EnvironmentKentucky Water Resources Research Institute, CAER, the College of Engineering, and the College of Communications and Information Studies. The combined accomplishments between these groups are serving as long-term (e.g. 100+ years) sustainable possibilities and opportunities for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and Paducah. 


UK Visualizes Future for Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant

Video courtesy of REVEAL Research Media.


In the fall, two architecture graduate students, Xiaoyin Li and Brandon Spencer, presented models for a new international water innovation center in Louisville.


The water innovation center project stemmed from an idea of Louisville Water Company (LWC) CEO Greg Heitzman. He wanted a center that would enable students of all ages to come together to study water and develop water treatment technologies. LWC commissioned the project and UK students and faculty have been hard at work attending workshops and bringing their ideas to life over the past year.


Workshops presented students with an opportunity to talk with engineers, architects, and designers to gain information that would assist their models. Spencer found the planning process and workshops very useful. "It provided my classmates and me with a great opportunity to work within a real world application in architecture. During the course of the project we had many opportunities to sit and talk with the president, vice president, chief financial officer, and director of marketing about what they would like to see in an innovation center."


The building's proposed site is on Zorn Avenue at the historic water tower located along the Ohio River in Louisville. Based on its location, it was important to include the river as part of the model. In addition to the river, the architecture students also had to showcase the appearance of the center and how the Louisville community could utilize the space. Spencer and Li did just that, and their models were a highlight of a pre-conference event held as part of the 2012 IdeaFestival held in September.


Li says she hopes her design proposal will help "transform the Louisville Water Company's Zorn Avenue site into a 'hub' of public spaces where locals and visitors can gather and learn about water."


Li's proposal includes four major public programs to attract people as well as to satisfy LWC's initial requirements for the water innovation center. These four programs are: an auditorium-rooftop swimming pool complex, a Greek theater, a spray fountain plaza, and finally the water innovation center itself.


Spencer's proposal took on an approach with the center itself being broken into two main parts. The first of these parts is the water innovation center. Located in this section he designed a research facility, cafe, large exhibition space, classrooms and administrative offices. The second section was designed to house the auditorium, reception area, and river deck, which could be rented for special events in the community. 


Li and Spencer's proposals are being considered for the final concept. Although there is not currently a funding source for the project Heitzman believes grants will become available.


Most recently, third-year students in the UK School of Interior Design have been developing designs for an arts center and performance venue in Harlan County.


Organized by College of Design instructor Rebekah Ison, UK students have created proposals for the conversion of an abandoned furniture store into an art and community center. The center will include a performance space, gallery, coffee shop, three studio classrooms, as well as an apartment for visiting artists.


The students also provided designs for a series of plays and exhibitions set to occur throughout Harlan in October 2013. The UK studio explored programming and branding techniques designed to meet the needs of the community. To see and read more about these proposals visit the students' Tumblr blog at http://theharlanstudio.tumblr.com/.


Work on the new arts center is expected to begin in the summer of 2013.


UK School of Interior Design will host an exhibition of proposed designs for the Harlan County arts venue from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at Awesome, Inc. in downtown Lexington.



MEDIA CONTACT: Whitney Hale, (859) 257-8716 or whitney.hale@uky.edu

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