Since 1967, the Yale School of Architecture has offered its first-year students the unique chance to design and build a structure as part of their graduate education. Unique among architecture schools, this program is mandatory for all members of the class. The Building Project results in a single-family house in an economically depressed neighborhood.
The late Charles W. Moore, who headed Yale's Department of Architecture (later the School of Architecture) from 1965 to 1971, founded the First-year Building Project in collaboration with faculty member Kent Bloomer. Moore saw that getting out of the studio and building something would have several benefits for the students. As a believer in simple tectonics and basic technologies, he hoped students would be inspired by the mechanics of building. In the midst of the student unrest of the 1960s he saw the project as a way for students to commit to positive social action by building for the poor.
The earliest projects were outside of New Haven, and included community centers in Appalachia and a series of camp buildings in Connecticut. Reduced budgets in the 1970s and 80s, as well as increasing pressure on student schedules, led to a scaling back of the program and projects-which included several park pavilions-were confined to the New Haven area.
More recently, partnerships with Habitat for Humanity and Home, Inc., Neighborhood Housing, and currently Common Ground, have led to a focus on affordable housing. The houses allow students the experience of working with a client and the opportunity to respond to the challenges of affordable housing and urban infill. Students have shown great enthusiasm for these projects focusing on community development and neighborhood improvement. Many of them arrive at school with a desire to include such socially responsible work in their future professional lives. Having the opportunity to participate in the design and construction of such building projects often reinforces their conviction and inspiration to do so.