Yestermorrow Design/Build School in Waitsfield, Vermont offers over 80 hands-on courses per year in design, construction, woodworking, and architectural craft and offers a variety of courses concentrating in sustainable design. Now in its 35th year, Yestermorrow is one of the only design/build schools in the country, teaching both design and construction skills. Our hands-on 1-day to 3-week workshops, certificate programs and semester programs are taught by top architects, builders, and craftspeople from across the country. For people of all ages and experience levels, from novice to professional.

Friday, April 23, 2010

New Design/Build Program in Yucatan, Mexico

Yestermorrow is pleased to announce a new partnership with the Yucatan Institute for Sustainability to offer two design/build courses this summer.

The Yucatan Institute for Sustainability is dedicated to preserving traditional knowledge and promoting sustainable design through education and research, while involving and supporting the local Maya community. Our vision merges principles of sustainability and alternative energy systems with traditional cultural knowledge to shape the interface of human cultures with their environment. The campus serves as a hands-on, real-world laboratory for experimentation and education. The goal is to provide a center where international scholars from diverse disciplines can work, study, interact, create, and exchange ideas while exploring common themes of sustainability, preservation, and innovation. It also supports the neighboring Maya community of Espita while its members confront the challenges of maintaining their cultural heritage.

Course Overview

The Maya have lived in the dry tropical forests of northern Yucatan for over 3,000 years. Despite the environmental hardships of periodic droughts and thin soils, ancient populations were able to prosper, as the elaborate architecture of their abandoned ancient cities attests. This course frames modern principles of sustainability and ecological design within a broader perspective gleaned from thousands of years of human habitation. Students will learn traditional building and design techniques collaborating with the local Maya community. Students joining this initial season of a new educational venture will literally have a hand in guiding its development as we explore the intersection of traditional culture, ecology, and sustainability. The result will be an unforgettable experience helping to design and build a new center for research and education in a tropical setting.

Course Objectives

Students will complete the course having gained an intimate standing of human-landscape relationships in Yucatan from a millennia – long perspective. The course will illustrate the challenges and advantages to sustainable design in a tropical environment. Students will gain an understanding of the principles of historic conservation and learn traditional building techniques varying from wattle-and-daub and thatching to masonry walls and lime plastering. Finally students will have the chance to help design an educational and research facility completely off the grid. The master planning and design component will shape the direction for future courses.

The two course sessions will be offered this summer:
Session 1: June 14 – July 4
Session 2: July 5 - 25

Tuition for each session is $2200.

For more information, please visit

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Yestermorrow and AllEarth Renewables Install 28 Kilowatts of Solar Power

Power Purchase Agreement Makes Solar Power Affordable for Non-Profit

Waitsfield, VT (4/20/10) – Yestermorrow Design/Build School of Waitsfield, Vermont and AllEarth Renewables, Inc. of Williston, Vermont have partnered to install seven AllSun Trackers® on the school’s campus in Waitsfield. Over the course of a year, the 28 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic array is expected to produce enough electricity to power over 90% of the electricity used in Yestermorrow’s main classroom facility. This initiative is part of Yestermorrow’s master plan to implement and promote renewable energy systems and transition from fossil fuel use.

“Yestermorrow is committed to exploring renewable energy solutions, and part of our educational mission is to provide a demonstration site for different types of systems and technology,” said Yestermorrow’s Executive Director Kate Stephenson. “We’re thrilled that AllEarth Renewables’ power purchase agreement brings this photovoltaic technology within reach of non-profits.”

David Blittersdorf, CEO and president of AllEarth Renewables said, “Financially, it’s a smart decision for Yestermorrow. Our power purchase agreement, which requires only a $1,000 deposit, establishes a fixed price per kilowatt hour for their electricity, enabling Yestermorrow to save money as the cost of electricity rises over the five year term of the agreement.”
The AllSun Tracker is a complete grid-connected solar electric system which consists of photovoltaic panels mounted on poles installed in the ground. The system uses a GPS (Global Positioning System) and a dual axis rotation to keep the solar panels at a perpendicular angle to the sun’s rays throughout the day. This maximizes the amount of light reaching the panels, which in turn maximizes the amount of energy generated, providing as much as 40% more electricity than fixed panel installations of the same size. More than 100 AllSun Tracker solar systems have already been installed, including 36 at the Green Acres Tracker Farm in Hinesburg, Vermont, the largest solar installation to date in the state.

Yestermorrow’s AllSun Tracker installation is located on Route 100 in Waitsfield, VT. The Yestermorrow campus is open to visitors seven days a week and free tours of the solar systems are available with advance reservation (call 802-496-5545).

Monday, April 19, 2010

The solar trackers are UP!

Interview with John Connell on 30 Years of Yestermorrow

In preparation for our upcoming 30th Anniversary Reunion we decided to check in with Yestermorrow's founder, John Connell, on what he's observed about the School over the last 30 years...

What was your original vision for Yestermorrow?
I wanted to teach the butcher/baker/candlestick maker a method of design-driven construction that would allow them to have well designed homes without the cost/annoyance of an architect.

Did you ever think it’d be around 30 years later?
Absolutely. When I was shopping for a campus (there were several potential parcels that I considered) one of the highest priorities was that it should be a situation that we could grow into for at least the next 100 years. At least....

What’s changed the most about the school over the past 30 years?
Many of us old timers lament the loss of design focus that drove the first decade. I guess this is the inevitable price to be paid for being a leader in green and sustainable methodologies. And maybe the pendulum will swing back now that "green" is as common and credentialed as 2x6 studs. Also, we were involved in bigger structures back then. We always tried to build homes or full scale additions. Here again there has been a trade off. By moving to tiny structures we can service more non-profits and municipalities. Still, I think there's something to be learned by wrestling with a real house and a real client's constraints.

What’s stayed the same?

The people! The school is still the net result of an incredible group of outstanding people. It's these people that generate the school's gravitational pull, bringing in more of the same. While the physical plant is important and our facility helps us attract funds and students - it's our faculty and staff that really make the school. If the campus were foreclosed on tomorrow, I know we could start over in a heart beat. We should never lose sight of this fact. It's the staff, the faculty and the interns that really keep the curriculum fresh and the students coming.

When you led the decision to buy the Alpen Inn property, what did you hope would happen to the campus?
Again, my vision was at least 100 years out and I was hoping we would pioneer some really new and brave design/build directions. The economic realities of such a large property have forced us to settle for something a good deal more conventional than I had dreamed. And yet, I still think in 100 year increments (and even 200 years!) so I'm not the least bit disappointed in what we have accomplished in a mere 30 years. There is nothing keeping us from stepping up to even greater design accomplishments if only we will make that a priority. Our campus is an excellent reflection of where we have put our focus - green methodologies both vernacular and high-tech. I love that about it.

How do you think Yestermorrow has influenced design/build education on a national scale? When we started Yestermorrow there were exactly two design/build curricula in the nation's architecture schools. Today, over half the schools have great shops and ongoing design/build programs. Yestermorrow faculty helped set up and run a handful of those programs and many others took lessons from our early efforts. But we are no longer leading the discussions that take place in that national context. We could do well to tune in. Additionally, I find that there are more design/build offerings at the elementary and middle school level. This is an incredibly important development and an arena we need to pay more attention to. Only be educating our entire population to design basics and visual intelligence will we be able to bootstrap the future of our built environment. The "Solar Age" of the late Sixties and early Seventies taught us that even green architecture that works will be razed if it's unattractive or poorly designed.

What do you imagine Yestermorrow’s next 30 years looking like?
Yestermorrow, like many institutions, is looking at a critical moment in its evolution. Every aspect of residential design and construction is under review as we look at the post-meltdown resource limited future. I would so like Yestermorrow to be a place that looks at things that other institutions can't because of entrenched special interests, routine or bureaucracy. If we could grow a school that combined the qualities of the Atlantic Monthly, Wired and Metropolis magazines, I think we might be headed in a promising direction. As an organization matures, it becomes increasingly difficult for it to persist as an innovative trail breaker. Maybe that phase of Yestermorrow has passed. I think not (see above concerning the staff).

But really the answer to question #5 should be, "Surprise me!"

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

John Abrams Lecture Cancelled

We regret to inform the public that the previously scheduled talk for the evening of April 23rd "Building a Local Economy in the Mad River Valley" has been cancelled. There is not yet another scheduled date at this time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Note on Solar Trackers from John Norton, Board President

Dear Yestermorrow Community;

As many of you who drive by the school on Rt 100 may have noticed, there has been some construction activity in the area in front of the school between the wetland and the driveway. Seeing this several members of the community have raised serious concerns about the pending installation of solar photovoltaic trackers at Yestermorrow hard by a scenic highway. I am writing to describe the relevant details of the project and to explain the background of the decision to proceed with this project.

Last year, Yestermorrow was approached by All Earth Renewables (formerly Earth Turbines) of Williston, VT with a very attractive proposal to install solar trackers at the school. In December of last year after deliberation by the Executive Committee of the Board and discussion of the whole board, the school entered into a five year leasing agreement with All Earth Renewables for the installation of eight 4 kiloWatt solar trackers. Due to the site constraints only 7 will be installed. This is enough capacity at our location to cover 90% of the anticipated annual load of the offices, studio, shop, kitchen and dormitory. Under the terms of this lease Yestermorrow has made a nominal down payment and will pay All Earth for its energy use at its current price fixed for five years. At the end of the term of the lease the school may elect to renew the lease, buy the trackers, or have them removed. The agreement is forecast to be cost neutral for the school assuming that our cost of electricity would not have changed over the five years. This lease was signed earlier this year and All Earth has installed the concrete pilings. The project has received a Certificate of Public Good and approval from the Wetlands Division of ANR. The trackers will be installed this week. Under the terms of the lease, if Yestermorrow does not purchase or renew at the end of five years, All Earth will remove the trackers, foundations, wiring and conduit and return the site to its former state.

The site of the trackers was determined by a committee of the board working with All Earth to maximize the energy production of the trackers on Yestermorrow property. Several of the trackers are located in the wetland buffer, the balance are in the meadow just outside the buffer. None are installed in the wetland.

This decision was taken deliberately with the full awareness of the potential for controversy after careful consideration of the project’s cost benefit and relationship to the school’s mission and values and was based upon the following principles:
1) Yestermorrow must take responsibility for its own energy consumption and production, to the extent practical, and it must do so with conservation and renewable energy, in its own backyard, not someone else’s;
2) The project must conform to all federal, state and local regulations and must not adversely affect the ecological values of the site;
3) The project must be as beautiful as the current technology and site conditions permit.

We recognized that in order to proceed with the project with the resources available, this third principle would have to be compromised. Considering the “long emergency” of peak oil and the crisis of climate change, we elected to make those compromises. In the context of the 30 year history of Yestermorrow and a thirty year minimum future these compromises can be revisited in 5 years.

This is a matter on which reasonable people, with full appreciation of all the elements involved, will and do disagree, so I am challenging the Yestermorrow community – board, staff, instructors and friends, to collaborate to confront this challenge now. We see and understand the current state of the art and we now see and feel the price of its limitations, and we will soon have a laboratory in our back/front yard. To a far greater degree than any other institution I can think of, Yestermorrow has the resources to design and build, reject and design and build again solutions which will meet the full challenge of the three principles I outlined above in concert with its mission.

John “Sucosh” Norton
President, Board of Directors
Yestermorrow Design/Build School

For more on the specs of the AllSun Trackers, click here to download the spec sheet pdf

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Digital Fabrication Should Be Taken Less Seriously

Yestermorrow instructor Erik Hegre is currently a MArch student at the University of Oregon and put together this presentation on digital fabrication. Press the play button to zoom in and read the details.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Moving Forward with Semester Program

We’re thrilled to embark on the planning and design of Yestermorrow’s new semester program in sustainable design/build, scheduled to launch in Fall 2011. This innovative new program will bring college students to Yestermorrow for a semester-long immersion in the world of design/build, learning core concepts of ecological design along with hands-on building skills. With start-up funding from an anonymous foundation we have hired Jonathan Mingle to work with us over the next 8 months as a consultant and Semester Program Coordinator. Jon brings to Yestermorrow a broad range of experience in teaching, design/build, semester program development, writing and energy studies. For the past 5 years he has worked with Vermont Intercultural Semesters as a teacher and consultant for their semester and gap year programs in Ladakh, India. He is a freelance writer who has published in the Boston Globe, New York Times Magazine and Home Power magazine and he has built treehouses with Forever Young and worked on natural building projects at Rancho Mastatal in Costa Rica. He completed his MS in the Energy and Resources Group at Berkeley in 2009 and graduated from Dartmouth in 2001. Jon’s connections to Yestermorrow trace back to his internship here in the summer of 2004.