Yale breaks ground on historic Living Village project

Yale Divinity School on Wednesday broke ground on an ambitious residence hall that is expected to give back more to the environment than it takes.

Yale Divinity School (YDS) on Wednesday broke ground on the Living Village, an ambitious residence hall for divinity students expected to give back more to the natural environment than it takes.

The project, which will be the largest “living building” complex on a university campus anywhere, was designed to meet the stringent standards of the Living Building Challenge, an international certification system that promotes sustainable design and construction.

It also aims to deliver a moral and theological statement about the need for the urgency to construct buildings that are in harmony with nature in a time of climate crisis, Yale leaders say.

The project is a key component of Yale’s Planetary Solutions initiative.

(Photos by Allie Barton)

Launching the Living Village project, YDS Dean Greg Sterling said during Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony, represents a historic occasion for the school and for Yale. Not only will the project increase the school’s square footage by 37.5%, but in setting a new standard for sustainable design it will embody the school’s values.

It will set an agenda for the educational program of the school that will train students as apostles of the environment,” said the dean.

Among other features, the Living Village will achieve a net positive carbon, energy, and water footprint; will be constructed with recycled and environmentally benign materials; and will be designed in a way that connects it with the school’s existing quadrangle to achieve “a united living and learning environment.”

In his own remarks, Yale President Peter Salovey said the groundbreaking, like the start of so many other campus projects, offers an opportunity to reflect on what the project says about the community undertaking it.

For me, the Living Village is an expression of a phenomenon that has been studied by generations of psychologists and other social scientists, as well as by scholars of divinity and religion. And that is hope,” Salovey said. “It's a process by which we can transform what yet isn't into what can be.

Hope, I think, is the enduring thing that will perch in the soul of this place when it stands for centuries to come, well after our time in this community and on this earth.”

Also in attendance for the ceremony were George and Carol Bauer, whose generous gifts helped make the project possible; New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker; U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal; and Katie Dykes, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

The Living Building is expected to be completed by August 2025.

Moments before dignitaries planted shovels in the ground for the ceremonial groundbreaking, Sterling told guests that there’s a line he’d been waiting to deliver for a long time, and then paraphrased the words from a classic song. “I want to reverse the lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s song, ‘They tore down paradise to put up a parking lot,’” he said. “It is time to tear up a parking lot to put up paradise.”

In a pair of videos, Yale School of Architecture’s Mae-Ling Lokko recently explained what makes a “living” building and the seven performance categories that make up the Living Building Challenge.


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