In October 2021, the city of New Haven passing legislation permitting the construction of accessory dwelling units (ADUs). Through a partnership with Columbus House, a local nonprofit dedicated to addressing homelessness in New Haven, students at the Yale School of Architecture designed and built a single-family residence in The Hill neighborhood of New Haven to demonstrate the new possibilities of the ADU.
Our project scope was to design a building under 350 square feet and sited behind an existing multi-family unit owned by Columbus House. In order to better understand both the local context and specific use-cases for our target demographic, we conducted interviews with people experiencing homelessness, researched case-studies on ADU policy, and also developed analyses of New Haven neighborhoods. Through group charettes and deliberation processes, our group developed a design that maximized the usage and perception of space while addressing key concerns voiced by potential users.
Drawing on prior professional experience in acoustical engineering, I focused on designing the acoustic treatment of the building which was sited directly adjacent to an active rail line. This involved adjusting the placement of windows, doors, and accessory spaces in a way that would protect and insulate critical spaces such as the bedroom from acoustic disturbance. We also added small moments such as a central skylight that would foster a connection to the outdoors and highlight the materiality of the interior through the changing light. The backyard and intermediate space between the two buildings also served as areas of respite and gathering for intimate and social encounters.
During our final review, the only critique from the jury was on our placement of furniture.
After the design and deliberation process, students poured concrete, erected timber framed walls, and collectively finished the construction and interior detailing of the house over summer of 2022.
While this project was a fantastic introduction to the city of New Haven and its social context, it also highlighted the strained relationship between Yale and New Haven.
Some problematic instances included:
1. Not being able to speak to the inhabitants of the dwelling unit (of whose backyard we were building in).
2. Lack of community voices in the deliberation processes -- the critics and comments were exclusively driven by older white men.
3. Lack of effort in outreach or extended site visits that offered engagement opportunities with neighbors on site and to learn more about the specific social contexts.
4. No follow up with inhabitants of the unit after construction had been completed.
The way Yale conducted the project fostered an atmosphere of elitism and disrespect, as their lack of genuine engagement reflected the lack of interest in the lived experiences of New Haven residents. This experience prompted me to confront the Yale bubble and begin new investigations on what the city of New Haven has to teach us.