Nestled among the two-story homes and grassy front yards of Scranton Street in New Haven’s West River neighborhood is an unconventional addition — a micro home.
The house is a product of the Yale School of Architecture’s Jim Vlock Building Project — a yearly program through which all first-year architecture students work together to design and build a house in New Haven. The project, which has been a fixture of the architecture program since 1967, seeks to give students the chance to see a project from conceptualization to realization. The Scranton Street house, which opened last week, was made almost entirely from student labor, with the exception of electrical, mechanical and plumbing installations, which were handled professionally.
“It’s extremely important to the pedagogy of the school,” said Katie Stege ARC ’16, one of the 2014 student project managers. While the building project has been a staple of the school for over 40 years, this year’s project is the first to partner with a local affordable housing nonprofit, NeighborWorks New Horizons.
Because of the compressed timeline of design and construction, Stege said, the program hasn’t always emphasized the community impact of its projects to the same degree as other design-build programs — including Auburn University’s Rural Studio. By partnering with Neighborworks New Horizons, however, the team managed to fit the project to the needs of the neighborhood, specifically New Haven’s shortage of affordable housing and surplus of underdeveloped lots.
Joining Neighborworks was a second investor client — HTP Ventures, owned by New Haven native Thac Pham.
Building project coordinator Adam Hopfner ARC ’99 said that during the design process, the students had to negotiate many architectural and structural issues. In addition to integrating feedback from professors and clients, the students faced the added difficulty of reconciling city building codes and zoning requirements with the physical reality of the site.
Like many empty lots in New Haven, the plot of land now occupied by the Scranton Street house is what architects and developers call a “sliver lot” — narrower and longer than housing developers consider marketable.
“It’s unlikely that something else would have been built on this lot, given zoning requirements and its size,” said student project director John Kleinschmidt ARC ’16.
Kleinschmidt said that because of the recent housing crisis, the team was determined to scale down the project. In 2012, architecture students designed and built a 2,400 square foot house. This year, the house measured a conservative 900 square feet. While Hopfner said that Neighborworks at first found the house a bit too small, Pham, on the other hand, dubbed it the “McMansion” of micro houses.
In the end, however, Stege and Kleinschmidt agreed that both Neighborworks and Pham were satisfied with the final product.
In fact, Pham said his company plans to replicate the design of the building in different parts of New Haven. He said he may open a factory in New Haven that would pre-fabricate much of the micro home and perhaps ship components of the house to other cities to meet their needs.
The Scranton Street house is intended for first-time homeowners, Kleinschmidt said. After the winning design was chosen, “within two weeks we were digging a hole and pushing through the permit process with the help of the city,” Hopfner said. Over the following 15 weeks, every first-year architecture student helped put the house together, and 15 students were hired to complete construction during July and August.
The house was not designed to accommodate the needs of what Hopfner described as “a nuclear family with a mom and a dad and 2.7 children.” Instead, he said, the house was made for empty nesters, young professionals, couples who are buying a home for their first time, or other non-traditional home buyers. In order to achieve this, the house is designed with a larger two-floor unit on the bottom and a smaller loft on the third floor to afford different housing situations.
Hopfner said that he thinks micro houses are a growing trend in America, particularly due to what he calls a “reevaluation of the amount of space you need,” due to the housing crisis.
NeighborWorks New Horizons will sell the home with considerable subsidies to a local first-time homebuyer.