The Yale Building Project, Week 12: Haute Couture Siding

The student-builders begin fitting and attaching their custom cedar cladding, one board at a time.

Every Monday until mid-August, first-year graduate students at the Yale School of Architecture are blogging about their progress building an affordable, accessible owner-renter residence in New Haven. Click here to read the previous posts.

The presence of “Jimmy” is noted through the changing board sizes. The denser the boards, the closer you are to Jimmy (cue suspenseful music). Photos: courtesy the Vlock First Year Building Project

As week 13 of the Yale Vlock Building Project draws to a close, many of us are finally feeling the effects of the long 40-hour weeks. And rightfully so, for the last few weeks have been anything but slow. We left last week with a certain sense of accomplishment; we had finished painting the exterior siding, begun installing the birch-plywood ceilings, selected our interior paint color, and cleaned up the interior window trim. The roof was finally complete and the drywall was ready for a fresh coat of paint. All the rapid-fire installation and site work, made possible through our use of prefabricated components–the subject of several previous blog entries–seemed to live up to its promise. That said, none of us was prepared for the task at hand, or the trade-off for using so many standardized elements in the early phases: the tremendously arduous art of fine needlework, known to many of us as the exterior cladding.

Kipp and Emma measure, cut, re-measure, and fit boards into place.

The exterior siding is one of several custom-installed, highly specialized pieces to which we are able to devote a significant amount of time and resources, as a payback for using time-saving and mass-produced prefabricated SIPs in the early weeks of the project. Our cladding design uses vertical channels to map the SIPs’ locations on the exterior, and the resulting four-foot-wide sections are filled in with siding of various widths, which reflects its proximity to “Jimmy” (he’s back!) The process seemed simple enough: you take a long board of cedar, cut it down to size, and nail it onto the side of the house. However, many of us–myself included–neglected to think about the behavior of materials, their relationship to the tools, and, most importantly, the possibility of the slightest bit of human error. Naturally, all of these issues came to the forefront when our exterior cladding detail proved to be anything but a simple task. To execute the design we needed to customize each piece of material and carefully attach it to the exterior. The customization quickly added more steps to the process and shifted our cladding deadline.

Daiel and Adam, our program director, finish installing our standing-seam roof. The manufacturer name for the color is champagne, which we’re still about six weeks and a thousand siding boards too early for.

My muscles are sore, my back is burning, and the weekend cannot come soon enough. I complain about the siding, we complain about the work. After spending a full week cutting down one of the 1,200 pieces of siding, or sitting on scaffolding while perfecting my precision-nailing skills, I can justify the complaining to myself. It is justifiable–right? Maybe, maybe not, but as I get ready for work this morning, I know that I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Piles of siding boards await a final measure and fitting before they are installed on the house.

A drawing for our construction document set, showing how the staggering board sizes will appear on the front elevation of the house. (Click for a larger image.)

Mark works the chop saw station in the cladding assembly line.

The exterior of the house has become a maze of scaffolding, ladders, materials, and workers.

The Vlock First Year Building Project is partnering with Common Ground, a national supportive-housing developer, and the Connecticut Veterans Administration to build affordable, fully-accessible housing for female veterans. Check back next Monday for another installment of the students’ weekly blog for Metropolis.

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