Architecture Students to Build New House in New Haven

Continuing a long-standing Yale tradition, graduate students at the School of Architecture have put down their pencils and taken up hammer and nails to build a house. The one-family home will sit on what is now a vacant lot in a residential neighborhood of New Haven. When finished, it will be sold at cost to a low-income family through Neighborhood Housing Services, NHS. This year’s project is going up at 96 Sherman Ave., on the corner of Gilbert Avenue, near St. Raphael’s Hospital.

The house, designed by the students, will be an L-shaped structure with a wrap-around porch in front and a private patio in back. Lots of tall windows open to the backyard, and the exterior has an interesting variety of textures, including clapboard and board-and-batten. The first floor has 10-foot ceilings, an eat-in kitchen, living room, dining room and a half bath; upstairs there are three bedrooms and a full bath. The overall square footage is less than 1,500 – far smaller than the usual architect-designed house.

“This functions as a spacious house although it’s small,” says Henry Dynia, rehabilitation specialist and construction manager for NHS. “It will accommodate a growing family. Most important, it makes a powerful statement of friendliness, with a strong, hospitable front and side porch.”

According to Paul Brouard, faculty project director who has taken students through this process for 28 years, “The house has contextual design, fits well in the neighborhood, and will be relatively easy to build. The interior space has amenities – an open stairwell, good-sized bedrooms, large windows, a kitchen overlooking the garden, nice light and additional privacy from the street.”

NHS is a local non-profit agency that works to stabilize transitional neighborhoods. “We selectively rehabilitate houses where we have a fighting chance of securing a street from spiralling abandonment,” says Dynia. “We don’t just provide low-income housing; we try to create an atmosphere of community in a neighborhood.” The Yale project is the only new construction that NHS does, and it “has become a high point in our yearly cycle. We enjoy the contact with so many talented people – both on the faculty and students,” he adds. NHS has been the client for the School of Architecture’s first-year building project for the past three years.

At the beginning of spring semester, first-year students in the Master of Architecture degree program were given specifications for the annual competition. Initially, each of the 31 students submitted an original design. In the course of a series of meetings, designs were eliminated, combined and improved. For the final competition, the class was grouped into four design teams. Faculty members voted and representatives of the client, NHS, had the final say. The winning team included Hugh Blodget, Frederick Cooke, Dominique Davison, Tim Hickman, Chun-Huei Yang, Sonya Hals, Gary Gonya and Jennifer Tobias.

“We liked most of the houses from the beginning, and if we could build them all in New Haven, we’d love to do it,” said Dynia. “When making the final choice, we had to keep in mind that our clients want a traditional house. That’s a little at odds with what the Architecture School is all about,” he acknowledges.

Labor will be donated by the entire first-year architecture class, which will build the structure from foundation to roof, under the guidance of Brouard. The hands-on approach has been part of the Architecture School’s program since 1966, when students were assigned community building projects in Appalachia. In the 1970s, urban Connecticut became the beneficiary of the program. Projects have included a community center, bandshell, library extension, and several one-family houses.

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