Campus News

Campus Conversations: College of Design Seeking Innovative Solutions to Perennial Problems

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 30, 2011) – Whether it involves revitalizing river cities in Western Kentucky or seeking innovative solutions to economic problems in parts of Appalachia, the University of Kentucky’s College of Design is increasingly in the middle of trying to solve some of the Commonwealth’s most intractable challenges.

That resolve to partner with communities in ways that address local problems with local solutions was at the heart of a lengthy dialogue this week between UK President Eli Capilouto and the faculty and staff of the College of Design.

The conversation was part of Capilouto’s Campus Conversations — lengthy discussions with leading faculty and staff in each of UK’s colleges across campus. The conversation with the College of Design struck an important chord with Capilouto.

“I had a powerful afternoon with the UK College of Design,” Capilouto said after about three hours of discussion. “Their programs and faculty are challenging students to elevate the way they look at problems.”

Key examples of such innovative problem resolving, include:

  • Partnering with the Center for Applied Energy Research at UK, and sponsored, in part, by the Kentucky Highlands Investment Corporation and the Kentucky Housing Corporation, UK College of Design initiated the multi-year project HBEER (Houseboat to Energy Efficient Residences) in the fall of 2009. The initiative directly responds to the effects the recent economic downturn has had on the houseboat manufacturing industry in the Commonwealth. The overall concept of HBEER was to design energy efficient, low-income housing units that could be manufactured in the Lake Cumberland area of the state. With the help of Stardust Cruisers, the first of two thousand square foot manufactured housing units from redesigned and refitted former houseboats found a home in the Monticello community this August. The second prototype for HBEER should be completed later this year.
  • The “Kentucky River Cities” project is a multi-year, urban research and design project in which students confront problems experienced in Kentucky caused by global competition, increased energy costs and decreased profits. The project allows students to work directly with local government, private industry, nonprofits and neighborhood groups to help design solutions for these communities along the Ohio River. To date UK College of Design has initiated projects in two "river cities" as part of the “Kentucky River Cities” Project. In Henderson, the college has worked with the nonprofit, River City Renaissance, and with the city and county to redevelop HMPL#1 (Henderson Municipal Power and Light Plant No. 1), a retired coal fired power plant built in the late 1950s. And in Paducah the college is currently working with the city, the city port authority, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to speculate about future uses for the DOE's uranium enrichment facility in Paducah (the only one in the U.S.), which plans to halt operation in the next 10 years. Other cities for the program are being developed.
  • The College of Design was an integral part of an interdisciplinary group of students faculty and staff from six colleges and 16 centers and departments at UK who designed and constructed the University of Kentucky's S•KY BLUE House, a completely solar-powered house which finished ninth of 20 competitors at the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C.  Hundreds of school children have toured the house and thousands of people who visited the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington saw the house while it served as a visitor center there.

"These are only a few projects currently under way that engage students in important work around the Commonwealth," Capilouto said. "Kentucky's opportunities for both rural and urban design work, as well as historic preservation and interior design, create a studio for our students that extends beyond Pence Hall and the University of Kentucky campus."

Capilouto has now visited eight colleges for his Campus Conversations as part of an effort to engage the UK community in a discussion about the university’s agenda for the future. Capilouto meets with the UK board in October for a two-day retreat to discuss the university’s agenda further.