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KU’s moCOLAB rolls out for campus debut April 10th

Monday, April 06, 2015

LAWRENCE — The highly polished Airstream trailer that will appear this week in front of Marvin Hall won’t be parked there in error by lost campers. It’s the moCOLAB, a community center on wheels created over the past year by architecture students and Architecture Professors Nils Gore and Shannon Criss.

The moCOLAB will be open to the public from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, April 10, to display public-interest design work from the School of Architecture, Design & Planning. It is part of an event called The Big Share, a Center for Civic and Social Responsibility (CCSR) event that the architecture school will host this month.

Gore was inspired to start the moCOLAB years ago when he heard a speaker at a Bold Aspirations Summit describe the need for a mobile classroom that could be moved where she needed it for her research. Criss and Gore also teach architectural design studios, which involve taking students to perform research and public-interest design projects at different locations throughout the area.

“Nils and I talked about the idea,” Criss said, “and thought that renovating an Airstream would be a fun design-build project and something that we could use to support our own community-based, public-interest design projects.”

After finding research partners through the CCSR, they applied for and received a Provost’s Strategic Initiative Level II grant. This enabled them to purchase the used 1972-vintage Airstream Sovereign Land Yacht in September 2013.

For the next year students enrolled in a third-year architectural design studio taught by Gore, then gutted, cleaned and renovated the trailer. Criss joined the effort last summer when they completed it with its new curved plywood paneled walls, handcrafted furniture, lighting and air conditioning, and movable furnishings.

“The Airstream is an iconic RV that has been around for decades,” Gore said. “They are instantly recognizable. The challenge for us was to maintain the cool exterior while designing and building an interior that could be used for research and display instead of camping.”

So far the moCOLAB has had soft launches, appearing at events in Lawrence and Kansas City.

“It draws crowds wherever it goes,” Gore said. “All you have to do is park, open the doors and turn on the lights, and people come. And that’s really the point of using the Airstream. People like them, and they want to find out what’s going on.”

Eventually Gore and Criss hope that procedures for borrowing the moCOLAB will be established. Then, researchers and faculty could tow it to Kansas communities wherever it might be needed for such things as community needs assessments, seeking opportunities to work with citizens, or to devise and initiate projects that will prove to be transformative to the towns.

“When I travel around the state I run into a lot of smart people who have good ideas that need to be taken advantage of, and when I talk to colleagues on campus I find that many of them need to get out in the world in order to do their work,” Criss said. “We hope the moCOLAB can be used as a universitywide vehicle for accomplishing that.”

The celebration of the moCOLAB’s rollout is part of the CCSR’s Big Share meeting. It is an informal gathering of university faculty to discuss service-learning challenges, lessons learned and share some of the projects that engage students to help improve their communities. It will take place noon-1:30 p.m. in the Galloway Room on the third floor of Marvin Hall. Faculty must RSVP for the Big Share by Tuesday, April 7.

Students and faculty are welcome to visit the moCOLAB on the lawn in front of Marvin.