Architecture students design New Haven homes

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Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

Beginning January this year, first-year students at the School of Architecture began designing houses in New Haven.

The student designs are unfolding as part of the Jim Vlock Building Project, a competition that tasks students with envisioning and constructing a complete house in one of New Haven’s neighborhoods. The initiative was created in 1967 to give students hands-on experience and a glimpse of what the architecture profession is truly like. Now run by Critic and Director of the Building Project Adam Hopfner ARC ’99, the portion of the curriculum is an “important part of the school,” said Dean of the School of Architecture Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65.

“This is an opportunity for the students to get an idea of the relationship between the professional work and the field work,” said Paul Brouard, who ran the project for 42 years before his recent retirement.

This year’s construction, to be erected at 179 Scranton St. in the West River neighborhood, is a small 800 square-foot, two-family home. Its most notable feature will be its “replicability” — the hope is that the house’s minimalistic design will be reproduced throughout the neighborhood and New Haven more broadly, explained Katherine Stege ARC ’16, one of the group leaders in this year’s competition.

The selection process began in late March, when each of the 54 students in their first year at the school presented an individual design in front of a panel of judges. Seven designs have been chosen to continue the competition on the basis of their originality and clarity, among other factors, said participant Jessica Flore Angel ARC ’16. The students have now coalesced into seven groups, each consisting of seven or eight students, and have until April 24 to refine and finish their ideas. A panel of judges, comprised of potential clients, faculty and Dean Stern, will select the best design in late April, and the winning concept will be built during the summer by students and a group of specialized workers.

Brouard explained that the nature of the project has changed significantly over the years. Early iterations of the project were built not in New Haven, but in the Appalachians, West Virginia and other areas of Connecticut, where the students designed and constructed not houses but pavilions, medical centers and city parks. The “evolutionary process,” Brouard said, moved the project to New Haven after the organization Habitat for Humanity became involved. The group suggested building houses in New Haven as a means of reaching out to the local community and allowing the students to produce more complete architectural structures than just concert or theatre stages, as had been done in Bridgeport.

“Historically, the projects had been criticized for not pushing the architecture far enough,” Stege said.

In the current iteration of the project, Stege noted, participants are required to blend their original designs with an awareness of the context of the community where the house will be erected. She added that the students are collaborating with nonprofit clients contracted to help build the home.

“By building a new house we might give a leg up to people who might be encouraged to fix up their own houses,” Stern said.

The house will be dedicated in late September in a ceremony attended by New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and University President Peter Salovey.

Correction: April 16

A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that the address of the house being built by the Vlock Building Project as 179 State St.; in fact it is 179 Scranton St. Additionally, the article incorrectly spelled the name Jessica Flore Angel, and mistakenly attributed the title of “Professor” to Critic and Director of the Building Project Adam Hopfner. The students also began their designs in January, and not after Spring Break as previously stated. 

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