Student-Designed Home Features Energy-Efficient Materials

Students at the Yale School of Architecture handed over the keys to a house that they designed and built to its new owners at a ceremony on Sept. 25 at 20 King Place (at Truman Street).

The dedication of the house will mark the completion of the school’s First-Year Building Project 2008. Since 1967, the Yale School of Architecture has offered its first-year graduate students the opportunity to design and build a structure as an integral part of their education. Unique among architecture schools, this program is mandatory for all members of the class, and students frequently cite it as their reason for applying to Yale.

From its inception, the project has also been an opportunity for students to take positive social action by building affordable housing for the underprivileged, while helping to rehabilitate neglected city neighborhoods. Robert A.M. Stern, current dean of the school, has maintained the tradition.

This year the students worked with Common Ground Community, a non-profit developer, and the Veterans Affairs Office, to create a two-family owner-renter residence for a disabled female veteran and her family in a distressed New Haven neighborhood.

The Building Project design competition begins with first-year students forming teams based on common design interests. This year’s class of 64, divided into seven teams, worked to design, develop and document a proposal for a 2100-square-foot, wheelchair-accessible, two-family house. Students had to address the unique challenges of a corner lot, using sustainable resources, and energy-efficient materials and technology. The budget for the project is always less than actual construction costs, and the builders-in-training had to seek supplementary donations, mostly in the form of construction materials.

The result this year was a “designer” home, clad entirely in cedar, fitted inside with Swedish-designed cabinetry from IKEA and partially powered by solar energy from roof-mounted photovoltaic cells. Cedar was chosen, according to project director Adam Hopfner, because it is a sustainable material due to its quick re-growth and its resistance to weather and insects. The floors are bamboo, another natural material prized for being quickly replenished. This year, says Hopfner, the student-builders used a pre-cast foundation system, which, in addition to its other labor-saving virtues, uses 75% less concrete than the poured system. Although the first-year class of 2008 raised $100,000-worth of donated materials, when it came to constructing the interior steps of the house, they ingeniously repurposed old drafting tables from the School of Architecture that would otherwise have been thrown out.

Ground was broken in May for the house at King Place, and the whole class worked on site for two months. Afterwards, 15 students were selected to finish construction until the end of August.

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