In one week, first-year graduate students at the School of Architecture will trade their sketches for shovels and begin constructing a home on 179 Scranton St.
The construction will take place as part of the Jim Vlock Building Project — a program mandatory for first year students at the school in which students design and build a home from scratch in economically challenged neighborhood.
On Thursday evening, a panel of critics and judges chose one winning design after seven groups of students presented their proposals. Each of the 54 first-year students submitted an individual proposal in late March but only seven designs advanced to the next round, when the students were sorted into teams based on their prior experience and preference. All students will spend their summers in New Haven constructing the home that is slated to open in August.
“Students say that they come to Yale for this program,” said Karla Britton, a lecturer at the School of Architecture, adding that she does not think that many other schools offer a similar program.
Students and faculty interviewed said they consider the project a unique opportunity for the students to learn practical skills and appreciate the value of collaboration. Though the program has been in existence since 1967, all six students interviewed noted that this year’s project is unique because the students were expected to design a home that could be easily replicated across New Haven. Pearl Ho ARC ’16 said most of the prior homes that first-year classes have built were stand-alone homes that were never reproduced.
The seven students whose projects were selected in late March were required to abandon their designs and join one of the six other groups. Xiao Wu ARC ’16, whose design advanced to the group stage, said he thinks it was important that he did not work on his own idea, explaining that this policy ensures that decisions in each group are made democratically. He added that he was excited to see how his friends transformed and improved his initial design.
Shayari De Silva ’11 ARC ’16 explained that the space allotted to this year’s home is limited, adding that the two-unit home has to include a 500-square-foot unit for the homeowner and a 300-square-foot unit for the tenant. Last year’s Building Project measured 1,500 square feet, while the Building Project built by the class of 2014 occupied 2,700 square feet. De Silva said one of the central challenges for this year’s Building Project has been to design a house that is both affordable and a quality living space for two families, given the space constraints.
All six students said they have embraced the challenges inherent in developing a “micro-house.”
James Kehl ARC ’16 said he was initially worried that the pursuit of a replicable home would stifle the students’ creativity. But after several weeks of working on the designs both individually and as part of a group, Kehl said he realized that considerations such as affordability and replicability actually boost architects’ creativity. Dorian Booth ARC ’16 said the small size of this year’s house has proved an opportunity for the students to rethink the way people use space. He added that microhousing — affordable housing with small dimensions — is an important new trend in architecture that has become especially popular after the recent economic recession.
“This project is a reassessment of necessity and what we actually need,” Booth said. “Do we need to live in a 2,000 square foot home? Does that best serve our daily lives?
Booth said that such questions are often overlooked by both architects and society at large, adding that he thinks the prevailing ideology in the United States is that more must invariably mean better. Although this project does not seek to provide answers, Booth said, it will force the new generation of architects to grapple with these issues.
Both Ho and Wu said the project also serves an important philanthropic purpose. Ho said she thinks the initiative allows the expertise and knowledge of Yale students to improve the lives of local residents. Wu added that he thinks he will feel more attached to the New Haven community once he begins constructing the house over the summer.
Alan Organschi ARC ’88, a critic at the School of Architecture who oversees the project, said he thinks micro houses could be a major benefit to New Haven. He explained that micro homes can be developed on land considered unusable by most developers because it is too small to host a conventional home.
This year, the School of Architecture is partnering with Neighbor Works New Horizons, a nonprofit committed to providing affordable housing and HTP Ventures, a private equity firm interested in financing micro dwelling units.