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Yale architecture students built this innovative timber home for the formerly homeless

It’s one of the first instances of cross-laminated timber used for a house

Tanay Warerkar

For the 2018 Jim Vlock Building Project at the Yale School of Architecture (YSoA)—an annual program that asks first year students to design and build a home for low-income families and individuals—students were challenged to work with cross-laminated timber (CLT), an innovative wood panel product typically used in mid-rise structures as well as increasingly popular tall timber buildings rising around the world.

Earlier this week, students debuted the two-family home they completed on Button Street, in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood. Deborah Berke, dean of the Yale School of Architecture and a previous juror for Curbed’s Groundbreakers Awards said it was probably one of the first examples of CLT being used to build a house of this size. She also told Curbed she’s impressed by the scale of the house, saying it feels much larger than a typical two-family home in the area.

Kay Yang

The two-story house, which comprises a studio apartment and a two-bedroom, will be rented out to formerly homeless families through the housing non-profit Columbus House. This is now the second such project completed in a five-year partnership between YSoA and Columbus House. The inaugural collaboration led to the airy, two-family home completed further north in the same neighborhood last year.

Columbus House will choose tenants for the Button Street house based on a waitlist system, and selected residents will see 30 percent of their income go toward rent and utilities.

The 58 students that built the house began construction work in May this year, and many of them stayed on for the entire summer to see the project through. Adam Hopfner, the architect who leads the Jim Vlock program at Yale, continued to work all through Monday, adding finishing touches to the house before the opening in the evening.

Kay Yang

For this design-build program, students are divided into groups of six or seven and tasked with creating a fully fleshed out proposal for a cost-efficient, roughly 1,000-square-foot, two-family home. In their preparation to submit this year’s design proposals, students toured the house built last year, and surveyed tenants on what they liked and didn’t like. They also toured Columbus House’s office and spoke with its clients to get a better sense of their needs.

Once the winning design was chosen, all 58 students worked together to build the stick-frame house, which also features solar panels on the roof. The CLT panels that make up the house were trimmed offsite and then installed using cranes.

The Jim Vlock Building Project was established in 1967 by architect Charles Moore, the then-head of YSoA, and faculty member Kent Bloomer. In the years since, students have built community centers in Appalachia and camp buildings in other parts of Connecticut. In the 1970s and ’80s, budgetary restrictions and student schedules prompted the school to limit the building project to New Haven, and students have been building in the city since.

Meanwhile, similar projects involving student-built homes for low-income individuals and families have materialized around the country, from Los Angeles to Kansas City.

Kay Yang
Kay Yang