Studio Update

This past week, the Net Positive Studio, though always learning more as we proceed, has tentatively finished the research phase and has started work on our schematic design phases for the different workforce housing programs.  

Amid our first on-site construction experiences with the St. Johns house, our studio began to formulate and streamline our research presentation to more succinctly address all the relevant information to the communities of Manhattan and Ogden.  After receiving constructive feedback and direction form Donna Schenck-Hamlin (Program Associate-KSU Center for Engagement and Community Development), Prof. Todd Gabbard, and Prof Michael Gibson, the studio turned its focus to creating the first complete shareholder presentation.  

The studio used the feedback to better present the problem of the current low-quality affordable housing options available in the Manhattan area as well as the higher cost of existing move-in ready housing. In addition, to a more focused version of the information we had during the trial presentation, we added information on the Manhattan/Ogden area climate, highlighting the natural comfort zone and ways we can use passive design strategies to increase it. We then explained the three options of workforce housing we are considering: the 3-bedroom Ogden house, the 2-bedroom Ogden house, and the Lee Mills pocket neighborhood ideas. Finally, we concluded our presentation with case studies of houses that achieved what we were looking to do on these sites both programmatically and environmentally.  

We met on Friday, September 18th, to give our presentation to members of the community including Donna Schenck-Hamlin and Karmen Davenport of Habitat for Humanity, as well as representatives from the Riley County Government, The Flint Hills Job Corps, and other experts in green design and construction with stakes in the program who were eager to see what our research conclusions were, and what ideas we had to combat the issues we found.  

The feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive, and the shareholders were excited to see our research and what we could all learn from it going forward.  The  shareholders, despite being intimately aware of many of the issues affecting housing in Riley County, were pleased to see new statistics that better helped them understand more of the housing problem than they had previously known. The brightest spot for the audience was the interesting and diverse possibilities the case study houses represented. The designs really left the shareholders in an anticipatory mood as the studio started heading into the schematic design phase. The success of our studio’s presentation heightened community interest and engagement and gave us momentum through the rest of the last week as we began formulating initial designs for our various housing types.  

-Justin Cresswell 

St. John Update

The Net+ Studio has been hard at work on the St. John build site with help from Eco Devo team members. The studio has now been able to complete one build session in St. John, KS. The first build session consisted of three consecutive build days.  

The site conditions on the first day were rainy and dreary, but this did not stop the site work. The first session’s goal was to prepare the final three roof panels for placement. Professor Gibson and Abigail set out on the main task of disassembling, correcting, and reassembling the three roof panels. Zack and Devon, from Eco Devo, worked inside the house straightening the hurricane straps that had been moved and twisted in the construction process.  

The following day had wonderful weather that resulted in a very productive day. The studio was set to place the last three roof panels and was fortunate to receive the help of Davis Electric and Plumbing, who supplied the studio with a crane that allowed for a smooth installation of the final roof panels. After the successful roof panel placement, studio members Alex, Autumn, Kyler, and Hannah from Eco Devo began the task of inspecting and completing all the structural hurricane strap connections. The other studio members- Travis, Harley, and Conrad- began to cap the top wall and roof edge opening with 2 x 12 boards and constructed a material lift for the roof. The second build session ended with Professor Gibson and Devon began laying and place OSB on top of the roof.  

The final day on site continued with the placement of OSB on the roof with Professor Gibson and Devon continuing this task. Studio members Salim and Justin worked hard to cover the tops of the walls that were capped the previous day with OSB and insulation. The studio was unable to complete placing all the OSB on the roof. The studio will be returning for the second build session this week to continue installing all the OSB, insulation, and ZIP.  

Big Thank You to Davis Electric and Plumbing & the Eco Devo team members, Devon & Hannah.   

-Autumn Kayl 

Research Progress

This week our studio is doing research on our Manhattan/Ogden area project. We have been working in union with Donna Schenck-Hamlin (Program Associate-KSU Center for Engagement and Community Development) and Karmen Davenport to discuss the housing problem in Riley County. We have found the current housing market in Manhattan does not support the needs of the workforce community. The shift in the equilibrium between rental and ownership has caused the quality and quantity of affordable housing to decline. This has forced households to seek better social environments away from the greater Manhattan area, affecting the economy, health, and sense of belonging of the community.  

We are looking at pre-existing research found at Manhattan town hall meetings, workforce demographics, and existing housing characteristics. We are then looking at how we can make housing better to benefit households and the public.  

Through this research we have found that 60.4% of people who work in Manhattan live in the same city. Because of the poor housing quality and the high percentage of 47% of housing being apartments; households seeking quality single-family houses have a tough time finding affordable homes. We have also found that the main employment opportunities in Manhattan include Education Instruction and Library Occupations, Management Occupations, Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations, and Office and Administrative Support Occupations. With most of these occupations earning $50,000 per year or less.  

By implementing affordable workforce housing, we can make a healthier community starting at the small households. Making net positive housing we are able to reduce the environmental footprint as well as alleviate utility costs for families. While making affordable housing is beneficial to households, it also helps the bigger picture of the community. Having workers live and work in the same city strengthens the economy and the community fabric. Non-commuting citizens means increased money towards taxes, fees, and other forms of public revenue that improve schools, roads and infrastructure, and emergency services.  

We are also looking at case studies as far as New Zealand and as close as Hutchinson, Kansas. By looking at these select buildings we can pick successful ideas from each project and implement them into our design. Some designs focus on being net positive with characteristics like solar panels, rainwater collection, and thick insulated exterior walls. Other designs give us ideas about how to make our design low cost. Another building pulls ideas like landscape placement to bring a more personable feeling to our design.  

Our plan is to design housing for the Manhattan and Ogden area that is affordable, size-efficient, and net positive that sustains the single-family workforce demographic. Our design will be outlined by making it as close to 1,000 square feet as possible, having two to three bedrooms, implementing cost reducing sustainable features, using a prefabricated construction system. We are hoping for an all around healthy, energy efficient, and affordable home design.  

-Abigail Steinert

2020-2021 Net Positive Studio

The Team:

12 graduate students in their final year of studio at Kansas State University and our Professor Michael Gibson, partnering with our studio are Manhattan Area Habitat for Humanity, Manhattan Area Technical College, Flint Hills Renewable Energy & Efficiency Cooperative and Flint Hills Job Corps.  


The current housing market in Manhattan does not support the needs of the workforce community, approximately 60-120% of the median income. A shift in equilibrium between rental and owner occupied homes has caused a decline in the quality and quantity of affordable housing available to buy. Thus, forcing homeowners to seek better social environments away from the greater Manhattan area; affecting the economy, health, and sense of belonging.

Our project will propose a new kind of housing to the community: Affordable, net-zero, workforce housing which is not currently available in the Great Manhattan area. This prototype home will demonstrate what is possible through deliberate design, community support and investment. The project will help lead a shift in the types of homes available in Manhattan, providing professionals and the working class citizen access to homes that align with their incomes. 


– Attract and retain a diversity of labor in the community by building affordable housing that is critically lacking for typical, middle-income households in the Manhattan area. The target population is crucial for sustaining businesses, schools,and government.

– Demonstrate the feasibility of local home ownership by young persons, helping to retain the talent pool of students graduating from Job Corps, Manhattan Area Technical College, and K-State.

– Rejuvenate the housing stock in the community.

– Utilize emerging design, development, and construction methods that will educate participating students and trainees, as well as the community and allied leaders in development and construction.

– Demonstrate the broad tenets of sustainable housing, including the environmental, economic, and wellness benefits of sustainable, net-zero homes.

Studio Process:

Understanding the repercussions our project could have on the community, the studio process will be conducted in a similar format to practicing firms utilizing: Schematic Design, Design Development, and Construction Documents. Bidding and Construction phases will be slightly different, as a design-build studio we will be prefabricating the shell of the project and custom internal elements to cut down on the construction cost. Also, our project partners, Flint Hills Jobs Corps and Manhattan Area Technical College will be utilizing the project to teach construction trades driving the total price of the project down. 

Schematic Design: This phase of design process will take into account information gathered from researching demographics, current housing market, existing information on sustainable and workforce housing and community input  to create preliminary designs that will be presented to our partners and the community for feedback.

Design Development: This phase of the design process we will revise the selected project taking into account the requests and changes to the initial design. At this stage we will finalize the design.

Construction Documents: This stage we will prepare the technical documents necessary for construction. 

Responding to the challenges of COVID-19 the Net Zero Studio will be operating in a hybrid format. The nature of a design build project will require us to meet and work on the project in-person, but the studio will be utilizing Zoom, shared drives and other online resources in an effort to limit potential unnecessary exposure to the virus and still produce an effective and quality project.

Proposed Timeline:

Summer 2020: Organize partnership, develop project parameters, identify resources (expertise, funding, project materials, etc.). Develop plan for design and build phases of project.

Fall 2020: Launch demonstration project. Research community housing needs and program; design project for target demographic. Optimize energy efficiency, costs, and construction methods. Continue to fundraise; if funds/materials are secured, begin site work.

Winter 2020/21: Begin prefabrication of wall and roof panels. Identify photovoltaic system components and order.

Spring 2021: Conclude prefabrication of building shell.  Trade work commences according to the construction schedule. Assuming the site is prepared, field installation of panels begins. Screening and financial assistance secured for selected tenants/owners.

Summer 2021: Construction completed. Occupants may take possession.

-Kyler Milligan

Net Positive Studio Presents St. John Prototype

Our studio presented the net positive house to jurors on the final presentation of our semester and Kermer Jury on May 4th and May 8th via zoom.

We were grateful to have Prof. Todd Gabbard (Associate Professor K-State), Prof. Judy Gordon (Associate Professor K-State), Prof. Leslie Gordon (Associate Professor K-State), Donna Schenck-Hamlin (Program Associate-KSU Center for Engagement and Community Development), Jared Hoke (Principal, Hoke Ley), Emily Mcglohn (Assitant Professor, Rural Studio, Auburn University), Vladimir Krstic (Director KCDC), Terrance Clark (Executive Director, KCDC), and Tate William (Founder CoBuild) as our jury on Monday, May 4th. Jurors appreciated our project and showed their interest in current small-town problems. Tate William, with his experience in construction, was concerned about our customize casework. His comments expanded upon the adaptability of casework. Every user will use the space differently. Tate challenged us to think of different options for the users.

On Friday, May 8th, we had Larry Scarpa (Principal, Brooks+Scarpa), Joshua Coggeshall (Associate Professor, Ball State University), Jennifer Seigal (Founder, Office of Mobile Design), and Ursula Emergy Mcclure (Partner, Emergy Mcclure Architecture) as a juror. We were also accompanied by many faculties, fellow students, and alumni during the presentation via Zoom. The jury appreciated our research and timeline we had for construction this semester. The panel was very excited to see our studio explore the diverse uses of our design. Still, it was uncertain if we could achieve full construction at the end of May. We explained what we accomplished before Covid-19 and our plan to complete this project during the summer.

Net Positive Studio Update

The Net Positive Studio was critiqued by four faculty within K-State’s Department of Architecture on Friday, April 17 via Zoom videoconference, reviewing the studio’s progress and development through an ongoing compilation of a book highlighting all the work completed in the 2019-2020 academic year. This collaborative effort outlines and explains the research, processes, and design work and other documentation that has gone into the development and creation of the St. John House Prototype. We are thankful that architecture professors Michael Grogan, Chad Schwartz, Ray Streeter, and Grant Alford attended the videoconference, all of whom provided their own knowledgeable recommendations and feedback. The constructive criticisms of the draft included revisions, further explanation, and suggested clarifications regarding the book’s graphical and literary organization. Changes and additional iterations of the book will continue to be revised, edited, and developed further by the studio throughout the end of the semester to create a finalized document for publication.

The studio also presented their updated design proposal via Zoom on Monday, April 27 for the St. John Housing Prototype to the project client, Stafford County Economic Development led by executive director Carolyn Dunn. Dunn, accompanied by Program Director & Financial Officer Ashlee Bevan, gave constructive feedback of the design changes and final comments to the students as they make their final push towards graduation. Dunn and Bevan also reiterated how this improved design will continue to benefit the people of Stafford County, and positively affect other rural communities as well – a testament to the dedication and persistence of the studio to address affordable and sustainable housing shortages with a thoughtful and practical design approach.

The final design proposal and presentations will can be accessed in the coming weeks on the studio’s website. Copies of the finished book will soon be available for purchase, with ordering information becoming available at a future date.

Net Positive Studio Reviews Resilient Architecture

Following the protocols of social distancing, the Net Positive Studio too has transitioned into online learning. As our focus shifted from building prefab to intensive research for our book, we realized this phenomenon was a perfect time to reflect on the purpose of our future careers. After an extended two-week spring break, the Net positive studio got together to talk about their outlook on ‘Resilience in Architecture’.  

The objective of this research and writing assignment was to introduce the concept of resiliency and understand its relationship to current events relative to COVID-19 and the underlying themes of the studio, like affordable and sustainable housing. Prof. Gibson explained the idea of resilience as the ability of a system to adapt, respond, and recover from a stress or disturbance. In concept, it shares a great deal of perspective with sustainability, which is one of the major aspects of Net Positive studio.  This assignment was also intended to reevaluate the studio’s design intent for the St. John house in terms of its Resilience. 

For this assignment, each individual had to use a strong image to support their essay and dive into a variety of subjects to understand resilience. The topics ranged from physical, economical, and psychological aspects to importance of essential services, support of daily life, environmental sensitivity, opportunity etc. As each person explained their outlook on resilience with respect to a specific need in infrastructure and housing, we saw many strong ideas in design and construction. These provoked the thought of our impact through sustainability, affordability and resilience in housing design as well as recognizing the utmost importance in the physical and psychological impact of house design in our modern world. 

As a studio, the outcome of this assignment was that we re-examined our design, considering this as an opportunity to reflect and be prepared for the future challenges in housing design. 

Studio Pivot

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how carefully a project is planned, complications may arise. Unfortunately, just when prefabrication was ramping up in the shop, we learned that all campus activities would be shut down in accordance with Kansas State University’s response to the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) and the Net Positive Studio has transitioned to online learning for the remainder of the semester

We had hoped to share with you our progress on the construction of our house in St. John. However, even though our construction efforts have been halted, that has not stopped the studio from making the most of this unprecedented situation. Instead of focusing on construction, we have been afforded the opportunity to focus our attentions on other critical tasks. We have completed our construction documents and had a weeks worth of prefabrication under our belts before the break, but our studio is still in the process of designing much of its casework, an important element of the house. With this gifted amount of time to work remotely, we have formed a new team that has been dedicating their time to thoroughly designing the creative elements for our kitchen, closets, and other storage areas. 

Besides these efforts, we have also shifted our focus to the completion of a book that will document the studio’s activities throughout the year. During this time of crisis, we have been able to reflect on how our efforts to provide rural communities with affordable, energy efficient housing, may become even more important in the aftermath of COVID-19. We have also been able to reflect on how this crisis has affected us as designers and citizens, and how our response can affect the environment around us in the near future. These reflections, along with the work done to create our net-zero home,  will be included in our book near the end of the school year. We can’t wait to share the Net Positive Studio’s hard work with all of you. 

One final word on the St. John house: we have not given up on completing our project. While we can’t predict what lies ahead of us, we can always persevere. Through this crisis, we have more knowledge on the needs of families across our country and how we can aid them with design. We are confident that, with some hard work, we will be able to share this project as a built work in the near future.

The Net Positive Studio Begins Prefabrication

The 28th of February saw the first of our material shipments arrive (the largest part of our lumber order), marking our studio’s shift from the classroom to the workshop. While we didn’t have all the materials needed to start panel fabrication, we had some prep work that needed to take place before fabrication. Materials needed to be organized, framing platforms needed to be built, the fabrication set needed to be finished, and the different task spaces needed to be established. Finally, the 2nd of March brought us our RAYCORE shipment. With our materials in hand, construction could begin! 

There are 2 main stages of construction in panel fabrication: the framing of the panel (the assembly of studs and RAYCORE) and the sheathing of the panel (the application of OSB sheets, rigid insulation, and ZIP board). We decided that the best way for the studio to construct the panels was to complete the framing on all the panels first and then install the sheathing. Each individual panel has its own fabrication document that includes instructions on exactly how it needs to be framed, sealed, nailed, fastened to the framing elements, and how installed on the sheathing elements.

We started actual construction on the panels on March 3rd and by March 6th, the last day of classes before spring break, we had completely framed 12 of the 20 exterior wall panels (these 12 panels make up the north and south walls). We were averaging 3 panels a day. At this rate, we can easily finish framing exterior wall panels in just a few days, after returning from spring break, so we can move on to sheathing installation.

Net Positive Studio Designs Casework for the St. John Prototype

The decision of the studio was to build custom casework for our design project.  Since we are designing a residence with a very small footprint, we were faced with providing storage in a home in which it is essential to utilize the square footage efficiently.  We strived to provide a place for people to not only store their belongings but also to have places to display things while keeping the casework itself very minimalistic.  We worked to provide bookshelves, closets, and built-ins to alleviate the need and desire for homeowners to fill up their living space with unwieldy furniture.  We focused on many things from functionality to aesthetics to ease of assembly while accomplishing this goal.

As the entryway provides the first impression of the house, it was imperative to present a clean, uniform, and minimalistic design.  Being in rural Kansas, we wanted to provide an entryway hall that doubled as a type of mudroom.  The storage requirement for coats and shoes close to the front door was incorporated into a bench area that provides ample flexibility.

To continue with a clean and uniform design and to be adaptable to changing technology space requirements, the entertainment casework in the living area was designed with maximum flexibility in mind.  This was accomplished by providing an area that can easily be reconfigured to meet the users entertainment desires and equipment while maintaining the uniform design flow of the house.

When designing the kitchen we were faced with the challenge of how to make a functional kitchen in a very small space, while meeting the needs of the user.  Multiple iterations during the design project explored various options in an attempt to provide sufficient continuous usable counterspace.  As the appliance arrangements must provide a workable flow, we quickly came to the realization that counterspace and utility were difficult to achieve.  This led to placing the appliances and sink in the best location and then adjusting the cabinetry around it to provide a smooth and continuous appearance. To take advantage of the natural light, the cabinets and counters close to the window and sliding doors are at a lesser depth to allow maximum light to illuminate the area.  To finish the clean design, the additional depth of the refrigerator was utilized by creating cabinets that provide additional pantry storage without taking away from the overall kitchen space. 

To compensate for the lack of continuous counterspace and workable surface area, the remaining open area in the kitchen needed to provide both counterspace and storage.  We felt the solution to this was an island.  As the space in a small kitchen is often dynamic and needs to be adaptable for different occasions, a fixed island would have been limiting.  By having a movable, multifunctional kitchen island the homeowner can position it according to the situation and get the most out of the space.

With the goal of uniformity throughout the casework of the home, we wanted to provide for storage and enhanced entertaining in the dining room while eliminating the need for space consuming furniture.  This was accomplished by designing a wall storage piece with an accompanying bar area that could be used for any entertainment situation.

Once again, to provide a clean and uniform design throughout the habitat the bedroom casework is along the lines of Scandinavian wall furniture.  This eliminates the need for the user to find and place appropriately sized furniture within the limited square footage.  By having specifically designed casework for each room the space is efficiently utilized while exceeding the storage capability of a traditional closet. 

Placing the casework strategically allows for the ambient or natural light to be unobstructed throughout the rooms while at the same time reducing sound transmission between rooms.  The design, though minimalistic, resulted in an efficient potentially cost-saving design for the future user.

Construction of Casework

Throughout the fabrication we will be using standard cabinetry construction practices.  Unique to this project is the selection of ½ inch furniture grade plywood when able and the elimination of traditional facia boards.  To ensure a clean design, the doors of the casework will be designed to give a flush front appearance with minimal gaps utilizing European style hinges.  Certain sections will be joined using dado and pocket screws for additional rigidity and strength.  With this construction practice, we are able to customize while at the same time reducing the costs and providing a truly eye pleasing product that will enhance the living environment.

The proposed casework efficiently utilized the limited square footage of our design.  We provided a place for storage and display while keeping the casework very minimalistic.  By building closets, bookshelves, and built-ins we alleviated the need for the homeowner to fill up their living area with space consuming furniture.  We were able to incorporate stunning aesthetics, reasonable cost, and ease of assembly all while maintaining a high standard of quality.