Yale School of Architecture student-built house in New Haven dedicated

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A rendering of the new house designed and built by first-year School of Architecture students.

The new house at 136 Newhall St., designed and built by first year graduate students at Yale School of Architecture (YSoA), was officially dedicated on Oct. 1.

The ribbon cutting by Dean Robert A.M. Stern marked the 45th installment of the legendary Vlock Building Project, which since 1967 has been providing architecture students with practical experience in construction and design and communities with affordable homes and public facilities.

Since 1989 the Vlock Building Project has focused on providing low-cost homes to qualified New Haven residents. This year the School has partnered with the local non-profit Neighborhood Housing Services in the development of a two-family house of approximately 2,500 square feet, of which 900 square feet are devoted to a rental unit.

All first-year students in YSoA participate in the Project, which is part of the academic curriculum. The basic rules of the team competition are to come up with the best design of specific dimensions for a specific site. The selected lot is always in a low-income area where one new house can positively impact the whole neighborhood, but each site has its own idiosyncrasies and challenges, and the judges select the winning design on how well the team has addressed them.

Once the winning scheme is chosen, all of the students break ground for the project and work together throughout late spring. About a dozen remain in New Haven for the summer until the final nail is riveted into the roof.

For this year’s building program an ingenious strategy for dealing with a large corner lot with “too much street exposure” determined the winning proposal for 2012, notes second-year YSoA student Katie Stranix, a spokesperson for the 2012 Vlock Project. “The biggest issue was creating a level of privacy for the occupants while also engaging the neighborhood,” she explains.  They did this by twisting the owner’s unit and rental unit around a common axis, bringing the owner’s unit to the front of the property and placing its main entrance in the corner where the two structures meet. The configuration creates a common front yard at street level, and one can look through the glass front door of the owner’s unit to the backyard.

In addition to developing construction and design skills, the students also hone their powers of persuasion. Challenged by budget considerations, the students solicit donations of building materials and fixtures from manufacturers. This gives them an opportunity to work with many high-end products and new materials that might not be on the market yet. New Haven head-quartered Assa Abloy and Guilford-based Breakfast Woodworks, Inc. have contributed generously to this year’s Vlock Building Project as well as nationally recognizable brands such as Kohler, Teragren, and Glidden.