Yale Architecture Students Complete Low-Budget Home They Designed and Built

The dedication of the house that first-year students at Yale School of Architecture designed and built themselves will take place at 12 King Place (between Washington Ave. and Truman St.), on September 27 at 5:30 p.m.

Since it was initiated in 1967, the First Year Building Project has provided graduate students in architecture with the opportunity to design and build a structure as an integral part of their education. Unique among architecture schools, this program is mandatory for first-year students at Yale School of Architecture, and students frequently cite it as their reason for applying to Yale. In 2008 the Building Project was named the Vlock Building Project, in honor of James Vlock, who had a long-time connection to the School of Architecture and a deep involvement with the local community.

From its inception, the building project has also been an opportunity for students to take positive social action while developing skills in design in a collaborative process. The houses have been sold at cost to low-income families.

The Vlock Building Project design competition begins with first-year students forming teams based on common design interests. Each team of about 10 students designs, develops, and documents a proposal for a house of a specific area in a designated site. The budget for the project is always less than actual construction costs, and students have to solicit contributions of construction materials and fittings from other sources.

While the goal of creating low-cost housing for single families has remained the same, the particulars of the project have evolved over the years. In 2007 students began to work with Common Ground Community, a nonprofit developer, and the Veterans Affairs Office to cater to the particular residential needs of war veterans. Rather than a single-family structure of 1600 square feet, the students are now charged with designing a two-family residence that features a three-bedroom apartment for the owner and a rental unit of 500 square feet to help the owner finance the home purchase.

Owing to the purchase by Common Ground of a single property with three contiguous lots on King Place, Yale architecture students now have a particularly strong presence on a small street. This year’s house was built on the last remaining lot of the three, and stands next to the 2009 model. According to Building Project Director Adam Hopfner, the house at 12 King had a paradoxical advantage over its two predecessors, namely, a considerably smaller budget. “The budgetary constraints demanded a clarity of design that was carried into the field,” notes Hopfner. Keeping construction costs as low as possible, the builders also saved time, finishing the project a full week earlier than expected. The unanticipated free time gave them an opportunity to focus on landscaping the property, with the result Hopfner notes, that the surroundings are fully integrated into the design of the house.

Last, the reduced budget inspired the designers to develop an exceptionally affordable model, one that can be replicated wherever good, inexpensive housing is needed.

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Media Contact

Dorie Baker: dorie.baker@yale.edu, 203-432-1345