Member of Community Housing Partners' Architectural Team Takes to the Streets for Class Project
Christiansburg, Va. – When Community Housing Partners (CHP) Project Manager James Ruhland and 14 other rising architects were challenged by the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects’ (VSAIA) to develop a group project that would help improve Richmond through architecture, they immediately agreed its focus would be on the relationship between people and buildings.
Ruhland, a current participant in the VSAIA’s Emerging Leaders in Architecture (ELA) program to develop future leaders in the community and the field of architecture, explained his group’s thoughts on the project. “We believe that constructive community engagement is best facilitated and enacted by inspiring project stakeholders and community leaders with a new vision of the potential of their community. As such, we identified Richmond’s Manchester community as our target area with the intention to guide community leaders to see their neighborhood as a conduit for their ideals and beliefs.”
The cadre of young designers targeted the Manchester area because although it has begun to show signs of renewal, master plans prepared by the city for the area’s redevelopment have yet to be implemented. “As a neighborhood on the cusp of real growth, we felt that the residents, not outside experts, should drive the reshaping of Manchester,” said Ruhland.
So the team set out to design, build, and market an attractive and interactive wooden structure that would invite Manchester residents to share their vision for the neighborhood. Inside is a clear plastic window and markers for people to draw on the view, as well as a bench and a metal wall with magnets to post notes, business cards or flyers. The 4’ x 8’ kiosk, which fits into a standard parking space and can be broken down into four sections, ultimately traveled to three different locations in the neighborhood in order to engage residents, business owners, and passersby about the future of Manchester.
This sharing of ideas was documented by the ELA group and presented in November at the Architecture Exchange East (ArchEx) in Richmond. Based on their findings, Ruhland and his group asserted the traditional means and methods available to planners, developers, investors and architects for community development should be critically reviewed and evaluated. “Our project introduced a way for residents and leaders to see their community in a new light,” said Ruhland. “What was once viewed as ordinary can become a vehicle for inspiration and reflection. We think this experiment is easily replicable and may well serve as a new model for community engagement. It is our belief that this project will demonstrate how thoughtful collaborative design fosters positive community change.”
About the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects’ (VSAIA) Emerging Leaders in Architecture (ELA) program:
The Emerging Leaders in Architecture (ELA) is an Honors Academy of the VSAIA that develops future leaders in architecture firms, in communities, and in the profession. The goal is to accelerate the growth of emerging architects and provide the tools and experiences needed to advance their careers and serve society as leaders in the community.
ELA is an intensive program of educational sessions structured around presentations, discussions, team exploration, analysis, consensus-building, collaboration, and case study activities undertaken over the course of a year by a small cadre of participants selected for their potential to be outstanding contributors to the profession and the community. A class project is incorporated into the program, which lasts the entire year, is real-world and real-client based, and serves to help the participants put the knowledge and skills they are learning into practice. To learn more, go to www.aiava.org.