Yale School of Architecture and Columbus House raise homelessness awareness

School of Architecture exhibit

Students from the Yale School of Architecture (YSoA), together with New Haven-based homeless services provider Columbus House, are working to raise awareness about homelessness and affordable housing at this year’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas.

The students have designed an interactive pavilion that will be featured at this year’s festival, as well as an exhibition of student work in the YSoA architecture gallery showing proposals for affordable two-unit dwellings. The pavilion is open to the public 10 a.m.-4 p.m. through June 24, and the exhibition will be on display Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. through Aug. 12 at the YSoA gallery, 180 York St.

Inside the pavilion is a long table embedded with exhibits and audio stations telling the stories of people who are either experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless, along with excerpts from data sets, state reports, urban theory, poetry, and literature. The table itself will house text and imagery related to the mission of Columbus House within panels and vitrines, while the earpieces of the audio stations are designed to evoke the shoestrings and soup cans used in childhood games of telephone.

The pavilion will also feature stools and a canopy, serving as a place for gathering and conversation for people of all backgrounds in the midst of the New Haven Green. “It is vital that architects work for the good of everyone in the community,” says Deborah Berke, dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “The built environment affects us all, and it is our belief that architects and designers have an important role to play in addressing many of the most vexing issues of our time, including the shortage of affordable housing and making our cities more inclusive. I hope that this project will help further the dialogue around these issues in New Haven.”“We designed a piece of interactive superfurniture that hopefully induces a range of conversations,” says Benjamin Olsen, YSoA graduate student. “From the exchange between a speaker and a listener to the conversation between strangers across the table to the discussions that Columbus House staff and advocates have been having throughout New Haven and beyond, the exhibit promotes the interchange of information.”

Recent reports show that there is nowhere in America where a minimum wage earner can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment,” notes Alison Cunningham, CEO of Columbus House. “It’s more critical than ever that we address the issue of affordable housing with innovative, sustainable designs. The pavilion is a place for interactive learning and conversation about what works for our community.”

The pavilion was conceived as a companion to the Jim Vlock Building Project, an annual design/build course for first-year graduate students at the Yale School of Architecture, and developed in parallel with the design for a house. The project was led by faculty members Amy Lelyveld and Alan Organschi and student project leads Lani Barry and Benjamin Olsen.

The Building Project is now in its 50th year and, in partnership with Columbus House, is dedicated to addressing the 21st-century problems of housing instability, availability, and affordability head-on. This year’s Building Project design for housing units makes far more extensive use of prefabrication, in contrast to the built-on-site houses erected in previous iterations; the two-unit dwelling contains a single-person and family unit that will house individuals who previously experienced homelessness.

The exhibition on the New Haven Green is supported by Gray Organschi Architecture/JIG Design Build, Ed Stanley Engineers, Welding Works, Eastern Metal Works, Rosebrand, and the Yale School of Drama.

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