The 2018 Jim Vlock First Year Building Project

The 2018 Jim Vlock First Year Building Project

Each year since 1967, students in the Yale School of Architecture’s professional degree program have designed and built a house in the summer after their second semester. Founded by Charles Moore as the first academic design-build program in the country, the early years of the Yale Building Project resulted in community centers and campgrounds in Appalachia and New England. Since 1989, the Building Project has created homes for over 50 New Haven families.

Students participating in this year’s Jim Vlock First Year Building Project—created in partnership with Columbus House, a New Haven-based homelessness services provider—have designed a two-unit home in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood. This home, clad in shingles, makes extensive use of cross-laminated timber (CLT) panels, an innovative and sustainable wood product, for structural and insulated vertical and horizontal surfaces. The panels were trimmed offsite and then craned in, continuing experiments in prefabrication that began in last year’s project. “It’s important that students have an opportunity to work with new materials and new methods of building,” says Deborah Berke, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture. “I hope the use of CLT panels pushes forward our conversations around sustainability.”

The prefabrication and panelized nature of the structural elements allowed the students to spend more time working out details in the house, including a long row of skylights along the ridge of the roof, bringing natural light into the double-height spaces of both living units. A sliding interior window shutter in an upper floor bedroom allows a range of natural lighting and view options for residents. These apertures contrast with the exposed natural wood surface of the CLT panels which bring warmth to the interior spaces; cove lighting along the top of the CLT panels bathes the underside of the pitched roof. Eventually the roof will host an array of solar panels installed by New Haven Community Solar.

First-year students formed into design teams in the spring of 2018, each proposing a different scheme responding to the same material and site demands. The winning proposal was selected by a design jury on May 1, 2018 and then was refined by students into a drawing set. The students then spent the summer trimming CLT panels at Yale’s West Campus and assembling the structure on site in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood.

This year’s house is the second built in a five-year collaboration with Columbus House, and the two units will welcome two formerly homeless New Haven families. “The Yale School of Architecture/Columbus House partnership has a far reaching impact. The students learn their craft, of course, but they learn so much more by being in conversation with their clients, in this case—people who have experienced homelessness. And for them, having the keys to their new, beautiful home is the answer to their hopes and dreams,” says Alison Cunningham, CEO of Columbus House. “Helping people resolve their homelessness is an honor for us all.”