Since 1967, the Yale School of Architecture has offered its first-year M.Arch I professional degree 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 typically results in a dwelling in an underprivileged 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, Neighborhood Housing Services, Common Ground, Neighborworks New Horizons, and currently Columbus House 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 dedication to do so.

The 2020 Jim Vlock First Year Building Project is sited on the interior of a residential block in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood. First-year M.Arch I students were able to design the two-unit, single-story structure before pandemic-related shutdowns. This year’s house marks the fourth collaboration with Columbus House, a New Haven-based provider of services to populations dealing with homelessness. Construction onsite took place in the late summer and autumn of 2020, with tenants moving in in early 2021. The design of the house explores circular economies of waste reduction, relying on sustainable timber construction.


The “Triple-Decker” is a New Haven traditional vernacular in which single level units are stacked three high. Each unit has access to a porch. Students embraced this typology as a response to the tall adjacent buildings and connect to the existing vernacular. The parti is an L-shaped unit with the void that forms the garden/porch. A typical floor plan is stacked and rotated on each floor. An enclosed exterior stair serves the second floor unit and an interior stair serves the third floor unit. A prefabricated kitchen/bathroom core acts as the dividing element that creates public and private spaces within the unit.

For the first time, the Yale School of Architecture is partnering with Columbus House, a non-profit organization that has been providing solutions to homelessness in the New Haven area since 1982. Columbus House provides emergency shelter and a continuum of housing and services designed to help people who are homeless or at risk move towards independence.

This year’s brief targets a 1,000 square foot house of two separate dwellings, to be located on a lot in New Haven’s Upper Hill neighborhood. Students are challenged to develop a cost-efficient, flexible design that tackles replicability in material, means, and method of construction with an emphasis on prefabrication and modularity.

2016 Jim Vlock First Year Building Project—The Yale School of Architecture is partnering with NeighborWorks New Horizons, an organization dedicated to developing quality affordable housing, and HTP Ventures LLC, a private equity firm interested in the mass production of affordable dwelling units.

This year’s brief targets a 1,000 square foot house to be located on a narrow sliver lot at 196 Winthrop Avenue in New Haven’s West River neighborhood. Students are challenged to develop a cost-efficient and flexible design that addresses the unique challenges facing similar sliver sites in New Haven and other urban environments across the country.


2015 Jim Vlock First Year Building Project—For the second year, the Yale School of Architecture is partnering with NeighborWorks New Horizons and HTP Ventures LLC.

This year’s project is a 1,000 square foot house to be located on a corner lot at 193 Winthrop Avenue in New Haven’s West River neighborhood.


2014 Jim Vlock First Year Building Project—This year, we are partnering with Neighbor Works New Horizons of New Haven, an organization committed to develop and operate affordable quality housing, and HTP Ventures LLC, a private equity firm interested in mass producing micro dwelling units. Our design work this semester is part of a continuing, long-term collaboration with the New Haven Livable City Initiative to develop the city’s 100+ vacant sliver lots.

This year’s house is an approximately 800 square foot dwelling at 179 Scranton Street in the West River neighborhood of New Haven. The house will be divided into one 500 square foot unit for the homeowner and one 300 square foot unit for a tenant.