Arch students drop pencils, take up hammers

The Yale School of Architecture class of 2014 built a house in Newhallville over the summer.
The Yale School of Architecture class of 2014 built a house in Newhallville over the summer. Photo by Robert Peck.

Life as a student at the School of Architecture is not all paprika carpets and model building: Second-year students at the school gained real-world experience over the summer by designing and building from scratch a home in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood.

The house was part of the annual Vlock Project, a competition and building initiative that pitted eight teams of School of Architecture students against each other in a home design faceoff, with the winning team’s design constructed by the students themselves. Robert Scott ARC ’14, one of two student managers who oversaw this year’s project, said the home will contribute affordable housing to the community.

“Working with this many talented and hard working people, and taking what was once only an abstract collection of ideas to a finished, occupiable space, is a truly remarkable experience,” Scott said.

The Vlock house was designed over the course of the last school year, with the initial design competition phase lasting five weeks, said Katie Stranix ARC ’14, Scott’s co-manager. After the winning design team was selected, the class of 2014 came together to perfect the house’s plan.

Scott said the house’s design was inspired by pragmatism rather than artistic influences. The student teams did their best to overcome the temptation to create something eccentric, he said, focusing instead on designing a more simple, functional home that could fit into its surrounding neighborhood.

“In the context of this project and this neighborhood, we felt that landing a spaceship on site was not the appropriate solution,” Scott said. “Instead, we made a concerted effort to create a well-designed home that was both sensitive to its context and provocative in its deployment.”

Sheena Zhang ARC ’14, who acted as field crew manager on the construction site, said this year’s Vlock house provided a special opportunity for designers due to its location. The house was built on “a prominent corner” in Newhallville, which sits northwest of downtown New Haven, with more land allocated to the project than there had been for past Vlock projects. This meant that designers also wanted to create a house with a noticeable, welcoming appearance, she said.

After the design phase of the project was complete, the architecture students took to the field to begin construction on the home. Scott said students, managed by field managers such as Zhang, worked building shifts from May to June. From there, a smaller group of Vlock Project students took over for the remainder of the summer, she said, continuing work on the home until last week.

Bryan Maddock, who designed Vlock’s website and helped build the project, said it suffered some setbacks from the fact that the students working on the build had little or no construction experience. He added that this lack of experience was especially difficult to overcome given that the project had a deadline for completion at the end of the summer.

Still, Zhang noted one of the most important parts of the Vlock Project for her has been its ability to bring her architectural studies into the everyday world.

Scott said the house has been built to be as affordable for its residents as possible. In addition to the main home unit, the students also designed and built a rental unit, which Scott said the homeowner who eventually purchases this year’s Vlock house can rent out for additional income, he said.

Scott added that volunteers from New Haven-based Neighborhood Housing Services, a group dedicated to finding affordable housing and support for residents of the Elm City, are at work this week painting the house and staining the deck.

Comments

  • newsjar

    Good idea — getting an architect-designed house into a real neighborhood without the full architect pricetag, Not exactly “affordable housing” the way a lot of people in New Haven would define it, but it puts a creatively designed house into the price range of a lot more average buyers. Could YDN follow up on this once the house in on the market — list price, broker, sale price, buyer, maybe the property tax? All part of the “real world” experience. I find this concept encouraging.