Cedar-clad house by Yale students could serve as a model for affordable housing

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Graduate students at the Yale School of Architecture have designed and built a contemporary family home in a low-income neighbourhood in New Haven, Connecticut (+ slideshow).

The dwelling was completed as part of the school's Jim Vlock Building Project, a programme established in 1967.

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture

The programme is focused on designing and constructing low-cost homes in economically distressed neighbourhoods in New Haven, Connecticut – the city where Yale is based.

First-year students are required to participate as part of the school's curriculum. "Unique among architecture schools, this programme is mandatory for all members of the class," said the school.

"The house allows students the experience of working with a client and the opportunity to respond to the challenges of affordable housing and urban infill."

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture

This year, students were tasked with creating a 1,000-square-foot (93 square metres) dwelling on a corner lot in the city's West River district.



"Students were challenged to develop a cost-efficient and flexible design prototype that could be adapted to similar sites in New Haven and other urban environments across the country," said the school.

Fifty-two students broke into eight teams and worked simultaneously on design schemes. A panel of faculty members and guest jurors selected the winning proposal.

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture

The students then constructed the home over the summer, with an official dedication taking place in early October. The construction budget was $130,000 (£86,300).

The two-storey house is clad in red cedar and is topped with a pitched roof made of galvanised aluminium.

"The pitched roof was a contextually sensitive response to the traditional New England gable roof," said the school.

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture

The upper portion of the home slightly cantilevers over the ground level, giving the building a distinctive appearance in a neighbourhood dotted with more traditional architecture. A low concrete wall borders the property.

The home's design is centred on the idea of a multi-functional core. "The core is efficient, consolidating stairs and utilities to leave the remainder of space open, gracious, and able to connect to the site," said the school.

The core is essentially a wooden box inserted into the centre of the home. It shields the kitchen and living room on the first floor from a highly exposed street corner.

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture

Stairs within the core lead to the upper storey, which contains a communal space with built-in cabinetry, along with bedrooms and bathrooms.

"The density of the ground floor is flung to the perimeter of the house on the upper floor, creating a thickness to hold furniture and fixtures for bedrooms and bath," described the school.

The team fitted the interior with concrete and bamboo flooring, white oak millwork and modern appliances. Several large windows, along with a skylight at the top of the core, enable natural light to fill the space.

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture

A number of companies donated labour and material for the project, including site excavation, plumbing and drywall.

Throughout the project, the students collaborated with NeighborWorks New Horizons, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to developing quality affordable housing.

The organisation put the house up for sale, and it was recently purchased by a family who has lived in the neighbourhood all of their life.

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture

The project was honoured with the 2015 Award of Merit for Student Design from the Connecticut Green Building Council.

The Jim Vlock Building Project was started by Charles W Moore, the architecture school's dean from 1965 to 1971, in collaboration with faculty member Kent Bloomer.

"Moore saw that getting out of the studio and building something would have several benefits for the students," said the school. "As a believer in simple tectonics and basic technologies, he hoped students would be inspired by the mechanics of building."

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture

"In the midst of the student unrest of the 1960s he saw the project as a way for students to commit to positive social action by building for the poor."

Early projects were located outside of New Haven, ranging from community centres in the Appalachian region to camp structures in rural Connecticut.

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture

In more recent years, the programme has teamed up with groups such as Habitat for Humanity and Common Ground to focus on affordable housing.

Other recent design-build projects include a pair of micro-cabins on the Navajo Reservation in Utah by students from the University of Colorado.


Project credits:

Partner: NeighborWorks New Horizons
Project director: Adam Hopfner
Assistant project director: Kyle Bradley
Studio coordinator: Alan Organschi
Studio critics: Trattie Davies, Peter de Bretteville, Amy Lelyveld, Joeb Moore, Herbert Newman
Student project managers: Alex Kruhly and Tess McNamara

Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture
Ground floor plan – click for larger image
Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture
First floor plan – click for larger image
Jim Vlock Building Project by Yale School of Architecture
Section – click for larger image
  • baju-baju

    A beautiful layout. Simple, clean and functional.

  • bone voyage

    Beautiful and simple.

  • Guest

    Looks beautifully conceived and executed. Brings a whole new dimension to low-cost housing.

  • Colonel Pancake

    Why is it that so many designers find quirky irregularities to be a necessary attribute of contemporary housing? Is there a particular reason that the pure, austere simplicity of vernacular farmhouses with their regularity of facades and uniformity of materiality no longer suffices as quality design? It seems like the novelty of inventiveness is the paralysing creative burden that all students have unnecessarily afflicted themselves with. As if 25-year olds have been in the business long enough to reinvent the house through experience?

    • Sim

      I don’t know, I guess you have to start somewhere and this is not a bad start. I think it’s better to start this way under the guidance of experienced teachers then on one’s own.

      I would mirror the stairs and the toilet, because otherwise the living room will become a hallway (especially with the doors to the outside also in the living room).

      I love the upstairs layout; very clever. Maybe a window in the bathroom? But that is really the only “fault” I can find. Storage is always a complex issue in houses like this (baby carriage, sled in winter, shoes, coats, bikes? Car seats, camping stuff, ski’s etc).

    • Sim

      PS I do agree that somehow in these days people act as if young people have some sort of miraculous intelligence that older people sorely lack.

      I think older people have the ability to see things with more experience and in a greater context, and are better able to see how relevant certain things can be.

    • A

      Bore off pancake face.

    • Xaya

      So true! Even here in the countryside in Germany, houses are done in a “failed Mondrian-ish” facade design more and more often. There is no composition or rhythm anymore. Even cognitive psychology shows that iterating elements are “pleasing”. Sure that’s a more “organic” approach, but is it really a feast for the eyes? That said, nice layout, even the staircase/kitchen core is a bit heavy!

  • Oana Coarfă

    What is the price?

    • Zuranto

      I visited the site this summer and the students working there told me it was about a hundred thousand dollars with everything included.

      • Tom F

        Except for the land of course! Add that in and this doesn’t look so “affordable”.

  • fergusnaughton

    I think many aspects of this design are very, very nice. However, I would agree with SIm on the plan revisions and if it is a model of affordable housing it isn’t necessarily the most efficient plan anyway to begin with. I would also consider the inclusion of a storm lobby at the entrance.

    Like Oana Coarfă, I also wonder what the cost is? This seems like a critical piece of information in trying to evaluate its success as ‘a model for affordable housing’!

    As such I would also like to see more technical information with regards primary energy demand and space heat demand to evaluate if it is a also a model for sustainable housing rather than just judging it on its pleasing aesthetics.

  • James Erlandson

    It’s interesting that an article about a house designed as “a model for affordable housing” doesn’t include a price or any cost information. The house was sold. What was the selling price?

  • Ian Nairn

    It’s a well-realised project, but if the headline is “students design affordable housing” then why is there no information/data detailing how this fulfils that aim?

    Doesn’t look like the savings were made on the finish and appliances – though to be fair that might just be a trick of clever design – and I’d be the last to claim that low-cost housing shouldn’t be finished to a high standard.

    But you also mention that a lot of the contractors/suppliers provided their products and services for free. Perhaps the solution to the housing crisis is to have every home designed by Ivy League students so that we can make greater use of the apparent benevolence of the construction industry under such circumstances.

  • Jon

    Until the price is published and compared against standard affordable housing rates for the area, I find it hard to believe that this can be classed as affordable. The level of detailing alone is of much higher spec than standard affordable housing. That being said, a very nice looking house and some lovely detailing.

  • Louis R Johnson

    I don’t see a cost to implement anywhere? For me that would be the most interesting part of the story… if it is affordable anyway.

  • disco_burrito

    On Yale news they stated the price was “less than $100 per square foot,” but they had also received “more than $100k” in donated building materials. Labor was performed by students.

    Since they received more than $100 per square foot in donations, that means they’re not including donations in their per square foot cost. So the actual cost is more like:

    ( $100K donations ) + labor.

    If we very conservatively estimate labor at $50K, the total for the 1000-square-foot Yale house probably comes to something like $250,000 or $250 per square foot. Hardly a model for affordable housing.

    For comparison, the average price per square foot for new tract construction in the US is ~$100/sf. I know someone who just had a 4,500sf vacation home built on long island for $173 per square foot. Finishes on this house are more basic than the Yale house.

    Sam Mockabee’s Rural Studio routinely builds fully functional, architecturally interesting houses for $36 per square foot, including labor. That’s in rural Alabama where costs are low, but it’s still impressive.

    • Camden Greenlee

      If you’re looking for a job, I think Dezeen is looking for competent journalists that actually research the claims that others make. You should get royalties for contributing to this article.

    • Louis R Johnson

      Thank you – great reply, and yes the rural studio is fantastic. I am in Kentucky, prices can be kept low here too.

  • rickbradner

    This is one of the more relevant projects to be featured here in quite some time (especially compared to today’s Basra bombast!).

    It’s simple and elegant, and although it could use one or two minor tweaks, about the only thing I question is that massive light well. Surely, given the roof pitch, this space could have been used more productively. Solid effort.

    • Sim

      I think the roof could have been utilised more creatively, it could have been used to make the rooms more spacious/spatially interesting, maybe a storage over the bathroom. If the “family room” had had no ceiling between it and the roof you could have a much more cost-effective lightwell over the stairs and a spatially stunning room at the top of the stairs. The lightwell is really about a designer showing off his/her muscles. After all, this is supposed to be affordable housing.

  • MOAB

    Did I miss the $/SF? I like it but it doesn’t seem so affordable. Additionally multi-family has to be the model for truly affordable housing. It doesn’t pencil out otherwise. Exterior wall vs number of units wise.

  • RANK. FRANK

    Like the simplicity of the design. But what is “galvanised aluminium” used for the roof cladding? You cannot galvanise aluminium!

  • Sharad Merchant

    In India, affordable housing typically splits the bathroom into three entities – shower and toilet cubicles with basin on outer wall, permitting triple access.

  • david royce

    Amazing there is nothing about costs to build this house since “affordable” housing is the theme.

  • examplesample

    This is the crap you get when you task people who live in a place where it’s 70 degrees all day, every day, with building a house. A big plastic circle tent. Glad to be from the east coast when I see jokes like this!

  • smitrovich

    Absolutely stunning home. But, calling this affordable housing is laughable.

  • Roger Blaho

    Only at Yale can they build a 1500-square-foot by 1,000-square-foot. Neat plan.

  • Jenna McKnight

    According to Yale, the construction budget for the project was $130,000 (£86,300). Thanks for your queries. Jenna M McKnight, senior US editor at Dezeen.

  • Tom F

    This is ridiculous. I live in New Haven and have been in the design sector of the construction industry for 10 years. Nothing about the specifications for this home make it affordable – cedar cladding and aluminium standing seam are on the complete opposite end of the spectrum of “affordable”. I’d like to see a line item breakdown of the construction expenses and wouldn’t be surprised to see donated time and materials.

    My problem with this is how it skews the public perspective on what they can afford – then when push comes to shove and ground is broken they are surprised the project comes in over budget. Shame on you Yale students. Get out of that ivory tower and look around at the world you live in.