About the CDR

exterior of CDR
interior of CDR
stone barn


The University of Kansas Center for Design Research conducts advanced research that emphasizes the use of design and technology to solve problems related to consumer goods and services. It is housed in the CDR complex located on KU’s West Campus, and operated under the auspices of the School of Architecture, Design & Planning.

Led by CDR director and professor of design Gregory Thomas, students enrolled in the CDR's classes have the opportunity to work on industry-sponsored projects. This creative process emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration, bringing KU students, faculty, and industry professionals from diverse disciplines to create imaginative yet practical solutions to complex problems. These may be "blue sky" applications, to validate a corporation's internal direction or new developments that may help position that company for the future.

This work goes far beyond simple aesthetics. Other elements that might be included in our design analysis include human factors, industrial and interaction design, cognitive psychology, persona and scenario development, economics, and rapid-prototyping. Hybridizing cutting-edge technologies in unprecedented ways is particularly important in our work.

The advanced students admitted to the classes that execute these projects are drawn from programs throughout the university, including industrial design, visual communications and interaction design, mechanical and transportation engineering, architecture, the health professions, and business.

The corporations that cosponsor our research with financial and in-kind support also help us develop accurate and focused problem statements, collaborate with the students during design, and evaluate our work product during final presentations.

Through the transfer of technologies developed at the CDR we are providing benefits to both KU and the public. We are developing new knowledge to advance design methodologies and a generation of designers who will become leaders in diverse professions. 


The complex of buildings that houses the Center for Design Research began as the the home of the Chamney Dairy. It was founded in 1921 about a mile west of KU by Harold Chamney, a dairyman whose advanced farming techniques won him wide acclaim. It would become one of the largest dairies in the region and eventually have 10 buildings over 130 acres of land. 

In 1970 the farm shut down and the entire property was sold to the KU Endowment Association. Two of the buildings currently in use by the CDR found service as a glass-forming studio, and interior and Industrial design classrooms. Over time the buildings fell into disrepair and by 2004 were in poor condition.

In 2009, John Gaunt, Dean of the School of Architecture, Design & Planning, and CDR director Greg Thomas won the support of the KU Endowment Association to renovate the buildings as a Center for Design Research, and to add an additional classroom and conference center. The new building was to be designed and built by the students of Studio 804, Department of Architecture’s design-build program.

Over the next year what was to become the CDR was a beehive of activity, as the barn and house were renovated into design laboratories and classrooms, and Studio 804 constructed a building whose resource conserving features, such as highly efficient air conditioning, a green wall, advanced metering of electricity, and wind turbine won it accolades in the press and a USGBC LEED Platinum rating. 

The Center for Design Research takes up where Harold Chamney left off. We also create high-value products by developing innovative ways to solve problems. The Center for Design Research is a working laboratory and incubator. By drawing together KU students, faculty, and industry representatives from multiple disciplines we use design to create imaginative and practical ways to creating innovative consumer products and services.

Studio 804

The Center for Design Research's classroom and conference center building was designed and built by students enrolled in the KU Department of Architecture's Studio 804. The full-time, two-semester, graduate-level course is led by Dan Rockhill, J.L. Constant Distinguished Professor of Architecture. The students designed and constructed the building in its entirety in seven months, starting late in the fall of 2010. The building was dedicated in July of 2011  

The motivation for the building was not just to fulfill a programmatic need, but also to create a place that would help educate the public about sustainable technologies, the importance of cross-disciplinary research, and the value of good design. It has received a great deal of attention in the architectural press, and helped University of Kansas maintain its leadership position in design research and the development of sustainable technologies.

The building features a wind turbine, smart-grid electricity metering, an energy-conserving plant-covered roof, photovoltaic panels, a rain garden, and an electric-vehicle charging system. Its south-facing facade captures heat inside a trombe wall, and it has a highly efficient HVAC system. The main conference room features a "green wall" planted with ferns under the three skylights and specially designed LED lighting.

The CDR building constructed by Studio 804 became a U.S. Green Building Council LEED Platinum-rated building in 2013. It was the first in Lawrence and at KU to receive the Platinum designation. The Center for Design Research has been published numerous times, including this feature story in Architect magazine.