Tense anticipation filled the air of the fourth-floor room in the Art & Architecture Building yesterday as students in the Yale School of Architecture awaited the chance to present their designs for a New Haven housing project.

The goal of the school’s competition is for all first-year architecture students to design low-income housing facilities for a New Haven neighborhood. The contest has been taking place every year since 1967, but the focus shifted 14 years ago from beach pavilions and picnic spots in an attempt to get students more involved in the local community.

The students divide into 12 teams, and one team’s design will be selected and built by the students themselves over the summer. The clients are the Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit development company that provides the property and markets the house to first-time New Haven homebuyers who qualify.

“The whole process is really fast,” Helia Afak ARC ’04 said. “Everything from the designing to the building takes place in less than a month and a half.”

The first review took place Thursday afternoon. Each of the groups displayed miniature wooden models and hung up their blueprints, which ranged from simple black and white floor plans to elaborate color shots. The students presented their designs to the panel of judges, made up of professors and the clients, who chose the six designs for the final round. The groups of students that were eliminated will join the six chosen teams to continue working on their designs. The winning design, to be built at West River, will be chosen on April 25.

“The main criteria we look at are design and livability, but the affordability will be paramount as the price of the housing has been going up the last few years,” said Paul Brouard, the building project director.

The students are required to work on building the house from the beginning of May to mid-June, but last year they did not finish the house, and an outside firm was hired to complete the project. This, coupled with the fact that the project has been increasingly over budget the last few years, means that the pressure is on this year to build the house on time and on budget, especially since the Neighborhood Housing Service has threatened to withdraw from the project if those goals are not met.

“We want to finish this house and we want the client to love it,” Project Manager Kristina Winegar ARC ’04 said. “We also want to integrate the two different communities — Yale and New Haven.”

Trattie Davies ARC ’04, the other project manager, said the idea of the assignment is to make students aware that they live in an actual city, not just at Yale.

“All the labor is donated, the design work is donated, we went and talked to the neighbors as part of the project and will clean up the site and have a neighborhood barbecue when we complete construction,” Davies said.

For architecture students, the project is a way of serving the community, as well as an opportunity to build what they design.

“There’s a connection that you never get to have — knowing its going to be built is such a huge experience,” J.C. Nelson ARC ’04 said.

“It’s like the real world, finally,” Winegar added.