The Yale Divinity School has secured a major donation that will allow it to move forward with a new construction project — an energy-efficient residential housing complex for Divinity School students.

According to Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling, the “regenerative village” will be the world’s largest “living-building” complex, as well as the first residential one. It is projected to be the most energy-efficient complex on Yale’s campus — far exceeding the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum certification, Sterling said. Residents of the housing complex will generate energy through solar panels, capture its own rainwater and use waste products as fertilizers.

The proposed $100 million project is now moving from the initial fundraising stage to the planning stage, supported by a $2 million gift donated to the Divinity School last December. The Divinity School is now seeking to hire an architect to design the exterior of the housing complex, which will allow it to attract more funding for the construction stage in the future.

“This regenerative village has an importance that goes beyond the Divinity School and even beyond Yale,” Sterling said. “It would establish a benchmark for sustainable living in university life that I hope will challenge other colleges and universities throughout the world to think about how they would build new facilities for residents.”

The new housing complex will consist of 150 housing units primarily for Divinity School students, but also available to other graduate students at Yale, according to Sterling. The construction of the complex is planned to take place in two phases. During the first phase, 85 housing units will be built on what is now the Divinity School parking lot. After that phase is completed, 65 additional sustainable housing units will replace three Canner Street apartment buildings that are more than 20 years past their life expectancies. Most Divinity School students currently live in the apartments on Canner St.

So far, in addition to the $2 million, the Divinity School has raised around $750,000 for the project. The school has already spent $500,000 of the funding to produce a feasibility study and a financial analysis, which estimated the total cost of the project at $100 million. Sterling said he hopes the architectural design plans will entice donors to donate in significant amounts in order to fund the rest of the project.

“The timeline of the project is all contingent on funding,” Sterling said. “But my assumption is that it’s going to be years, not months, before things happen.”

The recent $2 million gift will fund the next step of the project, which will be to hire an architect who will propose design plans and additional cost estimates for the village. To accomplish this, the Divinity School will release a request for proposals in the coming weeks so that firms can submit bids to take on the project.

Sterling added that the Divinity School is looking for an architectural plan that will create a “feeling of integration” between the regenerative village and the school’s existing quad, in both logistical and aesthetic ways. Additionally, the design plan will need to follow the “Living Building Challenge” standards — one of the world’s most rigorous certification metrics — meaning that both the housing complex and its construction process must leave no ecological footprint.

“I think for people who don’t know the [Living Building Challenge] concept, the best image is a flower,” Sterling said. “The flower has to grow in one place, it can’t move around, and when it dies, it gives itself back to the soil. The idea of a living village is to build buildings that don’t have to bring power or water in from the outside and don’t have to send waste away to somewhere else — everything is processed in-house. It actually helps, just as when a flower dies, to regenerate the area in which it exists.”

Sterling also emphasized that the regenerative village aligns with the Divinity School’s overall mission of environmental awareness and responsibility. He added that he hopes students living in the sustainable housing complex will learn the importance of mindful, sustainable living and will “replicate it in other contexts” once they leave Yale.

Ginger Chapman, the director of the Office of Sustainability, expressed a similar hope in an email to the News, pointing out that the experience of living in an “ecologically conscious community” with an “ethic of environmental stewardship” will encourage students to uphold those values beyond graduation.

Julia Johnson DIV ’18, a sustainability coordinator at the Divinity School and a co-leader of the student group Faith, Ecology, Religion, Nature and Spirituality, said the project has garnered support from the rest of the student body.

“Overall the project has been very well-received by students,” Johnson said. “I think this project is necessary and would really make a big statement not only for the university, but to other divinity schools around the country … We’re being not only sustainable, but also regenerative in our acts.”

Amber Hu |