Architecture students put new skills to use

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No caption. Photo by Courtesy ChristopherConnock/YaleSchoolofArchitecture.

ter completing their first year at the Yale School of Architecture, and many hours inside studios, fifty students abandoned their traditional work areas to hammer nails, carry heavy beams, saw wood and paint walls.

As part of the Vlock First Year Building Project, a mandatory part of the architecture curriculum, first-year students design and build a house in New Haven over the summer. This year’s project, a two-story plywood house at 16 King Place that is still on the market, was designed to house a female veteran who fought in the Afghan or Iraq wars, Building Project director Adam Hopfner said.

First-year architecture students designed  and then built a two-story plywood house at 16 King Place over the summer.
Courtesy ChristopherConnock/YaleSchoolofArchitecture
First-year architecture students designed and then built a two-story plywood house at 16 King Place over the summer.
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No caption.

The New York City development non-profit Common Ground, which specializes in development solutions to homelessness, partnered with the school for this project and will be responsible for finding the buyer that fits this profile.

The Building Project chose to target a female veteran both because of the prevalence of homelessness among veterans and the challenges of designing for disabled citizens.

“It is shocking for most people, regardless of their political views about foreign policy, to find out that 30 percent of homeless people are veterans,” Hopfner said, noting the architectural difficulties of making a house wheelchair accessible.

Jacob Dugopolski ARC ’11, one of two student project managers, said the $200,000 budget provided them with the funds to build an affordable structure.

“Our labor was free, and we received donations for the project so that it could go on the market at a low price,” Dugopolski said. In addition to the three-bedroom ground floor intended for the client herself, the house has a one-bedroom tenant unit on its second floor that the client can rent out so that the mortgage of the house is more affordable for the prospective buyer.

Yet to some first-year architecture students interviewed, affordable housing that costs $200,000 sounds like a paradox, especially in the present economic climate.

Emma Bloomfield ARC ’11, another student who worked on the project, said she thought it would be better to consider renovating a New Haven house that needed repair instead of creating a house from scratch.

“There are a lot of houses in New Haven that need a new life, and it’s not really affordable to hammer in new designs without considering its effect on anyone besides the students,” Bloomfield said. “I don’t think we used money as a constraint in this project.”

The faculty at the School of Architecture wrestled with the same question but decided that renovation does not fulfill the design intentions of the first-year studio, Hopfner said. Hopfner also explained that there are long-term benefits in constructing a new structure.

“One could also make the argument that it is more cost effective in the long-term to construct a new building because we pay attention to sustainability and durability to make the house easier to maintain over the years,” he said.

But Hopfner conceded that the grim economic situation was an obstacle for affordable housing because architectural projects must be subsidized if they are to be affordable for buyers. And subsidies are scarce these days.

Though the house’s simple gray structure and moderate height match the surrounding buildings, Hilary Bingnear ARC ’11, the other student project manager, said its orange veneer and “crazy” gabled roof make it obvious that this not an ordinary New Haven residence.

The design for the project, as well as the construction, was the product of teamwork. And students interviewed said they found the process rewarding, if difficult at times.

“The greatest challenge was learning how to visualize things and work them out in space,” Bloomfield said. “It is easy to make a straight line in a drawing, but it’s not so easy to make tall wavering aluminum channels fit snugly into vertical paneling.”

The blog created by participating students is a testament to the day-to-day toils and troubles of participating students.

“It’s 2 a.m. My back hurts. My calves hurt. I’m so exhausted that I can barely keep my eyes open. These are all clear signs that I’ve come to end of another long week on the Yale Vlock Building Project,” wrote Leticia Wouk Almino de Souza ARC ’11 in one blog entry.

The dedication will take place on Sept. 24.

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