A homeless family will be able to look out onto Adeline Street while cooking dinner and also find privacy in a rock garden, thanks to the design of the latest house Yale architecture students built in New Haven.
Some 200 people came out Monday night to tour and celebrate the new house, the 28th annual home that Yale School of Architecture students have built as part of the Jim Vlock First Year Building Project. This is the first year that a home was designed specifically for the homeless.
The distinctive, many-windowed, pitched-roof modernist house is at 54 Adeline St. in the Hill.
Into it one homeless family and one individual will move next month, sharing a common modernist building with the adjoining units separated by an elegant breeze-way and fronted by a flower-lined path gracing the narrow street.
“Imagine if you were sleeping on a bench last week, and someone gave you keys to your own place [like this],” said Columbus House Chief Executive Officer Alison Cunningham.
School of Architecture Dean Deborah Burke said when she arrived she had wanted to “deepen” the Vlock Project. That took the form of a partnership with Columbus House, the city’s lead organization in the struggle to end homelessness.
The Valentine Macri Court houses, 17 units of affordable housing also managed by Columbus House, are adjacent to what was an empty lot, and on which 54 Adeline now rises.
Cunningham interacted with the students, brought them to the neighborhood, had them talk with homeless people, all to inform what they were going to build.
Then 53 students in six teams competed for a winning design. When it was chosen, all 53 learned teamwork by helping to fashion most of the components of the house not on site but as prefabricated elements put together in a warehouse on Yale’s West Campus. That was in June and July.
The walls, roof panels, cabinets—all the elements—were trucked to the lot, which the city arranged to be turned over to Columbus House. A building team of 14 students over a two month period scrounged generous donors of windows, landscaping, and appliances and raised the house from the ground
One of the team leaders, Kerry Garikes, said she learned from consulting with homeless people contemplating their first place that they want living space where they could say, “This is my house, but part of a larger community.”
Her fellow team leader Dan Whitcombe said that was one of the reasons the high-roofed structure ended up having so many windows of different sizes looking out both on Adeline and West Streets.
The two units—a larger two-bedroom for a family and a smaller efficiency — are separated by a common space the students call the breezeway.
Whitcombe stood by the large bay window in the efficiency unit — a bay large enough almost to be a sleeping porch. It has a nook quality, a place to contemplate Adeline Street while the owner is cooking or he or she can be private as well and not be seen. His or her choice.
“It’s very open to the street. [The window is] is trying to bring the house out and the street in,” he said.
Taking their Columbus House clients’ preferences for making privacy important but not in a way that cuts residents off from the street also figured into how the student designers created the front entrance.
Instead of a set of steps going down to the sidewalk (which the city just built), the students came up with a long elegant path, lined by a box of mums and terminating in a rock garden, fed by dropping rainwater from the concealed gutter above.
You exit the house by walking the path and joining the sidewalk at either hand, a kind of gentler transition.
The roof is also longer by several feet over this front, bringing the path, like a terrace, into the house. It is both outside and inside at the same time.
Of this area Jean-Louis Valaise, proud father of student builder Alex Valaise, said, “It draws you in. You want to take shelter.”
The younger Valaise was one of the 14 of the 53 students on the crew who put together the pre-fabricated sections.
He told his son, “Most housing for the poor is you do it fast as you can. This is a proud home to go home to.”
Speakers from Mayor Toni Harp to Yale President Peter Salovey and Burke hailed the program Monday night as not only a contribution to the short supply of affordable housing in the city, and as a means for students to take its lessons out into the world.
Paul Rasmussen had participated in the program back in 2015, helping to build the house at Winthrop and Scranton Streets, when he was a Yale student,
He came back from his job Toshiko Mori Architect in New York City to give a high five to his partner, one of the current student builders. And he stood admiring “the elegant way to terminate the railing” in the steps leading up to the second floor of the family unit.
He said he’s working with that firm on the renovation of the Berlin Central Library. He credited the Yale program with his wanting to work on projects benefiting the public good, not just the well-to-do.
“It’s really nice to benefit the lives of everyday people,” he said.
This is the first of five homes that Yale Architecture School students will build in the partnership with Columbus House.
Alex Valaise noted that lots of community people were at the event, including the kids who were riding bikes and doing wheelies during the course of the construction this summer.
Cunningham said that in the winter during the “point-in-time survey,” New Haven counted 534 homeless people, including 80 families. Now there will be one less homeless family and one less homeless individual.
And they will be living on Adeline Street in a building that Cunningham—and she was not alone—called “stunning.”