Yale School of Architecture students designed, built and presented a new house on Button Street to two homeless families at a ceremony Monday evening, completing a project that had been in the works since the spring semester.

The initiative was undertaken through the 2018 Jim Vlock First Year Building Project, a requirement for all first-year architecture students. The program, which worked in conjunction with New Haven homeless shelter Columbus House, allows first-year architecture students to design and build a house in the New Haven area. The project’s initial proposal was designed by architecture students Emily Cass ARC ’20, Rachel LeFevre ARC ’20, Thomas Mahon ARC ’20, Christine Pan ARC ’20, Lissette Valenzuela ARC ’20 and Paul Wu ARC ’20.

“We thought this would be a good partnership, where students could work with an organization that was doing great [social work] and has a mission,” said Yale School of Architecture Dean Deborah Berke. “The project always had social missions. We feel like we stepped it up a notch working with Columbus House.”

This is the second year of a five-year agreement between Columbus House and the School of Architecture’s building project. Berke added that the partnership with Columbus House allows the students to be socially active within the community while honing their architectural skills.

The School of Architecture building project is entering its 51st year. Founded in 1967, the project is a mandatory requirement for all first-year students. Although all 58 first-year architecture students participated in some capacity on the Button Street project, only select students were granted paid internships from Columbus House to work on the project over the summer.

The house, with a grey exterior, has two units that are each intended to house a group of tenants. One unit has one bedroom and one bathroom, and the other unit has two floors, two bathrooms and two bedrooms. Both units are equipped with energy efficient appliances, including stoves and refrigerators. The backyard is lined with a mixture of pebbles, mulch and straw hay.

The student designers wrote that their design took into consideration a need for stylistic integration with the rest of the neighborhood, vibrancy and privacy between the two units.

“Our house materializes these priorities spatially, technically, and conceptually, providing a contextual and comfortable home where the residents can shape their own space and experience,” the student designers wrote on their building project website.

Columbus House has negotiated with New Haven Community Solar to install solar panels on the Button Street house’s roof. The solar panel company, an environmentally-friendly startup founded by three Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies students, hopes to install the panels by January. At the moment, the company has crowdfunded $11,586, a third of their goal.

New Haven Community Solar co-founder and CEO Franz Hochstrasser FES ’19 said that their project reflects both Columbus House’s socially effective mission as well as the cost of living in Connecticut.

“Connecticut is the most expensive state for energy costs in the continental United States,” Hochstrasser said. “So energy cost is a big issue for low-income tenants.”

The solar panels would deflect energy costs for the new tenants, Hochstrasser noted.

Columbus House CEO Alison Cunningham lauded the architecture students’ work, stressing the need for affordable housing for homeless city residents.

“I am speechless,” Cunningham said at the ceremony, where she expressed her deep gratitude to the students. “What you have given us is just beyond words. This building is extraordinary. It is such a gift to the people that we see every day at Columbus House.”

The architecture students enrolled in Architectural Studio Design were split into teams, which all submitted designs for the Columbus House project. Professors, administrators and Columbus House representatives then chose one of the designs to be built.

In recent years, Yale School of Architecture building projects have focused on affordable housing. The project’s teams have partnered with Neighborhood Housing Services, Common Ground, NeighborWorks New Horizons and Habitat for Humanity.

Since 1989, the Building Project has created homes for over 50 New Haven families.

Nick Tabio | nick.tabio@yale.edu