The Yale Building Project, Week 9:
The Fork in the Road

This is the last week of construction for many of this year’s student-builders.

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.

A student applies exterior sealant tape around newly-installed windows. Photos: courtesy the Vlock First Year Building Project

Something about today felt much different. Our crew of 12 still seemed to be recovering from this week’s review of digital-media projects (the second class we are taking during this summer–as Dean Stern put it, he wouldn’t want for us to be “bored” during the off-time from our Building Project shifts.) Our minds are still fluttering amidst the constellation of digital animations, CNC-milled surfaces, and interactive Web sites. It’s as if the realities of the day have yet to truly set in. Today is the last day that the majority of us will be on site until the ceremony marking the completion of the Yale Vlock Building Project in August.

Just six short weeks ago, the design of the house was relegated to the confines of a schematic permit set, yet today the house has officially been closed in with the completed installation of the last door. The sub-contractors in their many white vans (which seems to be a trend) arrived on site to continue constructing the infrastructural innards of the house.

Students, TAs, and our program director install the final upstairs window.

When things get slow on site as we await materials or instructions, we find interesting ways to pass the time, like sword fighting while balancing on decking beams.

PVC plumbing snakes through inconspicuous openings in the floor, mechanical ductwork reaches and branches to supply the various rooms, and electrical boxes sprinkle the interior studs while wires loop through small holes. In just three hours, the dry-wallers nearly had the entire tenant unit sheathed in gypsum glory. It’s now all too clear why we aren’t completing this portion of the process; the rate and precision of their work was absolutely astounding. We began discussing how far we’ve come in the process of construction in such a short amount of time. It seems like yesterday we were toiling with the location of first floor interior walls on the open sheathed deck, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the exterior SIP panels. We’ve definitely come a long way—and now that many of the exterior decisions have been solidified, the interior has come to the forefront, with many of the built-ins still in need of design resolution. This will be one of the many tasks left to the 14 students working through the summer to complete the house.

The insulation was installed this week on the parts of “Jimmy” that were not insulated with the SIPs

Toward the end of the day everyone seemed a bit nostalgic. We were moving slowly, tying up loose ends. Some of us affixed concrete backer board to the exterior perimeter while others adhered flashing around the remaining windows. We started to chat about our intended summer activities (for many of us “summer” seemed like an apparition that we weren’t sure would ever show its face.) Plans for travel, relaxation, and employment swirled in the air as if they now might actually take form. Many of us felt like we had to personally leave our mark in some way. Someone pulled out a Sharpie and we all signed the Tyvek on the front porch. Our shift usually ends at 5, but we lingered on site for an extra hour and a half, just talking. It felt like the last day of school when I was in grade school, understanding that I wouldn’t see the majority of my fellow students until the next school year commenced three months later.

Left: Installing lights on the interior of the house. The walls will be covered in sheetrock in the next weeks. Right: The many simultaneous tasks on site often turn our workspace into a jungle of ladders, equipment, and students.

As glad as I am to finally have time to pursue some personal projects, I’m also a bit torn because of a deep desire to see the house through to its completion. I do take some solace, however, knowing that 14 of my talented peers will certainly do the house than justice in both design and tectonic resolution. For now, though, the time has come for us to disband from our tight-knit herd and venture on our separate ways. August will be here soon enough and we can reunite as second-year students and proud veterans of the Yale Vlock Building Project.

The author examines the new windows, the interior of the house, our neighborhood, and himself all at once.

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 the tenth installment of the students’ weekly blog for Metropolis.

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