Yale School of Architecture dedicates house students built

The new house at 456 Orchard Street, designed and built by 1st-year students at the Yale School of Architecture, will be officially dedicated on Sept. 19. When Dean Robert A.M. Stern cuts the ribbon at 5:30 p.m., he will be saluting not just the student architects but the unique program that for 44 years has been providing fledgling architects with a ground-up educational experience while serving communities through architecture and design.

The legendary Vlock Building Project began in 1967 when Charles Moore, head of the architecture department, led a group of Yale students to Appalachia to design and build a community center for residents of New Zion, Kentucky. For the next 20 years, Yale architecture students contributed their talents to building and renovating public facilities throughout the state. In 1989 the project started to focus on improving distressed neighborhoods in New Haven, one new home at a time.

A non-elective course for all first-year students, the Building Project is frequently cited as the reason students chose Yale over other architecture schools. The rules of the program have hardly changed since it began: students compete in teams to come up with the best design for a house of specific dimensions to fit a pre-selected site, within a budget that is not quite enough to cover essentials. As soon as the winning team is chosen in late April, all the students in the class break ground, and continue to work on the construction until late June. A dozen or so stay on and work until the house is finished at the end of August.

The client for the project is Neighborhood Housing Services, the agency that commissions the house and finds qualified low-to middle-income buyers to purchase it at an affordable price. A guiding principle of the project is that one new house sets off a chain reaction of home improvement in the neighborhood.

The Orchard Street property consists of an owner-occupied three-bedroom unit of about 1600 sq. ft., and a two-bedroom rental unit of 900 sq. ft. The overall dimensions of the building was a challenge to the designers, who had to fit the whole structure into a narrow lot, while keeping the height within zoning restrictions.

The designers on the winning team elegantly solved the problem, says project director Adam Hopfner, by creating a kind of “Chinese puzzle,” configuring the upper-level portion of the owner’s residence and the rental unit into two interlocking ell-shaped layouts and rotating the gable of the house. From the outside, only a slight torque of the skylight-studded roof betrays the ingeniously configured spaces nestled beneath.

Members of the media are invited to attend the dedication on Monday and tour the house first-year students at the Yale School of Architecture created with their hands and minds.

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Media Contact

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