Peter Salovey and John DeStefano Jr. — the freshly minted president of Yale and the longtime mayor of New Haven on the verge of retirement — joined a crowd of over 100 University administrators, professors, students and city residents Monday evening to celebrate the newest home erected through Yale’s Vlock Building Project.
Salovey and DeStefano joined School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern in unveiling the home on 116 Greenwood Street that first-year architecture students constructed over the summer as part of the Vlock Program. The decades-old program — named in 2008 for James Vlock, a longtime affiliate of the Yale School of Architecture — allows students to design and build an environmentally sustainable and cost-efficient house in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood in New Haven. The home is then donated to Neighborhood Housing Services, a not-for-profit housing developer that sells it to a low-income buyer. In his remarks during the event, Salovey called the program a “great example of the Yale-New Haven partnership.”
The building was originally to be erected in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, but that project was stalled in June when Paul Brouard ARC ’61, an architecture professor overseeing the construction process, was assaulted on the construction site, forcing the students to relocate to the Greenwood site in the West River neighborhood. Brouard recovered rapidly, and the Newhallville home is still under construction. After Yale students left the site, the University and the city agreed to foot the bill as a private firm stepped in to complete the students’ design.
“This is about learning about architecture’s relationship to the world,” Stern told the crowd that gathered in front of the West River home, adding that he considers the Vlock program a “lesson in community building.”
Eighteen students stayed in New Haven over the summer to complete the Greenwood Street house, working overtime to finish by the end of September. Brouard said he was “delighted” to see the finished building, adding that he thinks this year’s house is “the best yet” in the program’s 45-year history.
Ben Smith ARC ’15, one of the designers, said compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood was one of the guiding principles for the design. He said the students set out to design for a “prototypical lot,” creating a building that could fit into any sliver lot in the city. With a width of only 17 feet, the site forced the students to think about how to “open up the space available,” Smith said.
Three stories high, the house boasts tall ceilings, wide windows and skylights that flood the central area with light. White paint covers the home’s cedar exterior and hardwood bamboo wood lines the floors. Smith said students call the house “Hearth,” a name they identify with an “open living environment” conducive to gathering and conversation.
Vlock, who attended Monday’s open house, said he first became involved in the project because he wanted to help architecture students develop “technical expertise” in addition to their academic work. He is committed to building practices that also benefit the surrounding community, he said, and appreciates that his namesake program can be a boon to New Haven’s struggling neighborhoods.
Salovey said that despite his short tenure as president, he is “no stranger to the project,” having visited past construction sites as provost and a resident of New Haven.
DeStefano described the Vlock Project as a “great partnership” between Yale and New Haven and praised this year’s house for its seamless integration into the neighborhood.
Alissa Chastain ARC ’15, one of the designers, said the project gives architecture students their “first taste of the real world,” as it gives them the opportunity to design and build a house as professionals. She said the project also taught her the importance of making the most of available materials, many of which were donated.
The Vlock Building Project was founded in 1967.