Yale Building Project

Project – New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Yale Building Project is a compulsory part of the first year architecture course at Yale University in which students design and build their own structure. Seen as an early precursor to the design-build studios that are more popular today in the US, such as the BaSic Initiative, URBANbuild and Design Workshop amongst others, Yale's programme was the only one of its kind when it was set up in 1967 by Charles Moore. Whilst the school already had a fledgling design-build culture, with past students having built houses for each other's families and ski chalets in one case, Moore gave these activities an ethical dimension. Built in some of the poorest areas of the USA, the programme exposed students to a kind of poverty that many had not encountered before. Believing that architectural education should be much more that the ability to draw, Moore's tenure as chairman at Yale broke with the Beaux-Arts tradition of students working on one-off buildings such as museums and art galleries. Instead he focused on the everyday, on how to design good quality and affordable buildings for dwelling. Although Moore himself was crucial to the process, his vision sat well with the politics of the 1960s and students' desire for a socially relevant form of architecture, and they themselves were instrumental in identifying many of the early sites and communities for the projects.

Over the years, the basic teaching model has remained largely unchanged with students working first individually and then in groups to develop designs to a given brief in consultation with residents. Later in the academic year, projects are judged by clients and tutors and a single design is chosen to be worked on collectively, drawn in detail and built. Students work in teams, each group being responsible for a certain aspect of the project with tutors acting as advisors. Since the inception of the programme, projects have varied from early community buildings in rural Appalachia, to more modest pavilion-type buildings in the 1980s that were the result of budget limitations, to recent projects carried out in partnership with housing organisations such as Habitat for Humanity and Neighbourhood Housing Services. The type and nature of drawings produced by students has also evolved, from the basic sketches that were made for the first building to the full set of working drawings produced today.

The pedagogical approach developed at Yale moves away from a purely academic teaching system towards a model for learning based on doing. Students take responsibility for the construction, learning to work collaboratively, making collective decisions in a process that is often chaotic and difficult. The emphasis on mutual knowledge gained alongside fellow students, users and other interested parties, teaches essential skills of negotiation and frames architecture as a collective practice in contrast to modernist notions of the individual architect.

Other Work

Paul Brouard, The Yale Building Project: A Resource Manual (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996).

Yale first year students 2008/09, "Yale Building Project, Weeks 1-16," MetropolisMag.com, 2009, http://www.metropolismag.com/pov/category/the-yale-building-project.

References About

Robert Stern, "Charles Moore: The Architect Running in Place," in Charles Moore Buildings and Projects 1949-1986, ed. Eugene Johnson (New York: Rizzoli, 1986).

Herbert Newman, "First-Year Building Project: Learning Experience and Community Service," Journal of Architectural Education 34, no. 2 (1980): 28.

Alberto Lau, "New Zion Community Center: A New Experience in Architectural Education," Progressive Architecture 48 (September 1967): 167.

Richard W. Hayes, The Yale Building Project: The First 40 Years (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).


It's a lesson in trust. Contrary to the cherished portrait of the architecture student as conquering design hero who embraces every opportunity for total design, our experience with the Yale Building Project is exposing the importance of choosing one's battles-knowing when to voice concerns and opinions, and when to trust your peers to do their job and do it well.
- Mathew Zych, student at Yale Building Project; http://www.metropolismag.com/pov/20090504/the-yale-building-project-week-1-chaos-and-trust


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