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Building Project

Multiple Contributors,

Yale School Of Architecture MArch Year 1

Yale University, New Haven, CT. USA.

Since 1967, first-year stu­dents at the Yale School of Architecture have worked col­lab­o­ra­tively to de­sign and build a struc­ture as part of their grad­u­ate ed­u­ca­tion. Unique among ar­chi­tec­ture schools, the Jim Vlock Building Project is a vi­tal com­po­nent of Yale’s cur­ricu­lum.

For the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, the Yale School of Architecture is part­ner­ing with Columbus House, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion work­ing to end home­less­ness in the New Haven area. Columbus House of­fers emer­gency shel­ter and a range of hous­ing ser­vices to com­mu­nity mem­bers ex­pe­ri­enc­ing or at risk of home­less­ness, with the ul­ti­mate goal of pro­vid­ing ser­vice-en­riched or in­de­pen­dent hous­ing to those in need.

This year’s site is lo­cated on Button Street in New Haven’s Hill neigh­bour­hood. Students are tasked with cre­at­ing a cost-efficient de­sign for a 1,000 square foot two-unit home, while ex­plor­ing meth­ods and as­sem­blies unique to tra­di­tional stick-frame and cross-lam­i­nated tim­ber con­struc­tion. Students work in teams to de­sign and de­velop pro­pos­als for the dwelling, tak­ing each pro­posal through the tech­ni­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion phase. A final de­sign is se­lected at the end of the spring se­mes­ter, and stu­dents be­gin con­struc­tion in early May.

Christine Pan, Archivist

For clarity you are heavily involved in the process from start to finish, from conception to construction?


The Yale Building Project offers us a condensed experience of the multifaceted process of realizing a home. The first year M.Arch I class is split into teams, each working together to design a proposal that encompasses the needs of our clients while satisfying the zoning, site and material constraints. This includes countless design charrettes and research, but it also encompasses the economic aspects. The project relies on generous in-kind donations of materials and finishings. These tax-deductible donations provide the vast majority of construction materials and we are tasked with acquiring these donations from generous companies and individuals. It will be very exciting to see all of these moving parts synthesize into a home for the clients of Columbus House this Fall.


Emily Cass and David Schaengold, Procurement Managers 

The Building Project is very unique in comparison to other architecture schools, how do you feel this method of education benefits the students?


The pedagogy of the Building Project allows us to understand the ways construction details, means, and methods support and reinforce the conceptual basis of a designed space. Through drawing a construction document set and witnessing those drawings manifest in real life, we begin to understand how design intent can be carried through each built joint and detail. The setup of the Building Project into smaller, quasi-competitive design teams with real clients and benchmark deadlines of Schematic, Design Development, and Construction Documentation and into bidding introduces the dynamics of the professional side of architecture.


Furthermore, the history of the building project offers us the opportunity to understand how our spaces affect the clients in our community. For example, this year each team visited the 2017 BP house and worked to incorporate the clients’ feedback in their designs. Taking into account the neighborhood of the Hill, other aspects such as contextuality and public perception of the home become important drivers of the Building Project. Through this project, first year students are encouraged to address the immediate needs and better understand the culture of the city of New Haven.


Helen Farley, Darryl Weimer, Jonathan Palomo, Serena Ching, Field Crew Managers

The project results in single family homes in lower income neighbourhoods, this must massively benefit the local community and be a rewarding way to educate yourself?


Working with Columbus House has exposed us to realties that we aren’t often asked to address. It has been humbling to learn about the challenges faced by people experiencing homelessness, and sobering to listen to their stories. This project has not only afforded us an incredible opportunity to play a role in these stories, but has also given us the privilege to start addressing a fundamental problem of housing that affects everyone in our community so directly. Columbus House has demonstrated sensitivity and compassion through their work, which we hope to emulate through our architectural work, from addressing the client’s needs to conceptual clarity in our design. In the fall, the future residents of this building will move into their new homes, which will, as a first step, hopefully, provide them with the safety and security needed to empower them in other aspects of their lives.


Rhea Schmid and Max Ouellette-Howitz, Community Coordinators


You are split into multiple teams to undertake the project does this assist in creating a practice like environment in the studio? I assume this aids in developing the social and management skills early on in your architectural studies?


So much of architecture school focuses on individual work, but most architecture firms work collaboratively. The building project is purposefully an opportunity for students work with a team and develop coordination skills. Unlike at a firm, everyone on a building project team has equal design power and ownership of the project. The pedagogical objective of the building project is as much about learning how to be a member of a productive team as it is about creating a design proposal. We learned social and management skills both through experience—having to coordinate responsibilities and tasks within tight deadlines, and through workshops led by Phil Bernstein of the Yale School of Architecture and Amy Wrzesniewski of the Yale School of Management. These workshops prep students with communication and presentation skills and assess the success of each team's leadership and work strategy, separate from their design output. Ultimately eight out of nine designs aren't selected for construction, but every student will come away from this experience better prepared to work in a group again in the future. 


Page Comeaux and Katie Lau, Project Managers

Modelmaking appears to be a focal point during the process, what do you feel are the advantages of this medium compared to other typical techniques?

Because the chosen design actually gets built and inhabited, the design ideas have to be tested as much as possible in three dimensions. Models give an immediately clearer picture of what the experience of inhabiting the spaces we design might be like once built. Model making also starts to train us to think in terms of building: thinking through how the parts come together, the sequence they follow, and how they’re supported structurally.

For us as the exhibit coordinators, we’re getting another opportunity apart from the building project itself to test these similar skills. Leading the design for the Columbus House pavilion for the International Festival for Arts & Ideas has meant we’ve had to consider not only the design intent but also the logistics behind it. Realizing a project at these various scales gives so much valuable information to feed back into your process as a designer.


Camille Chabrol and Deo Deiparine, Exhibit Coordinators


You are due to start the construction phase of the programme shortly, how does it feel to be creating the physical manifestation of all your hard work over the past months?


I am eagerly awaiting to break ground! Creating the physical manifestation of our class’s design will be an unbeatable experience. I am most excited to gain a novel understanding as to what it genuinely requires to construct something we detail. Learning from this perspective will undoubtedly positively influence how we design in the future.


Emily Cass, member of Team G (winning scheme)

If you could offer one piece of advice to our architecture student followers what would it be?


It's easy to get into the weeds when working on details and deliverables for a project. Constantly try to imagine how the project will be presented and what the client or the critic needs to see to understand your design ideas. Then focus your efforts on the pieces of the project that best help convey that idea. Sometimes 2 hours fiddling with line weights on a drawing could be better spent on a quickly sketched diagram or a simple foam model.


Seth Thompson, Website Manager


Finally, where can people find out more about the Yale Building Project and keep up to date with the imminent construction?


Follow us on Instagram! We will be posting daily updates on construction as we work through this summer: @yalebuildingproject2018. Our new website is also live - visit - where you can find a timeline of our design process throughout the semester, which will be updated as construction progresses accordingly. You can find each team’s design proposal here in detail.


Matt Liu and Kay Yang, Photography and Social Media

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