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Architects’ Kiosk: Draw Your Own Manchester?

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Thom White, Amrit Singh and Jost Crasselt work on the what-do-you-see kiosk. Look for it in Manchester on Oct. 8, 9 and 15. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Thom White, Amrit Singh and Jost Crasselt work on the what-do-you-see kiosk. Look for it in Manchester on Oct. 8, 9 and 15.

What’s this big gray box doing on the streets of Manchester?

Its creators hope you’ll go inside to find out.

Fascinated by Old Manchester’s half-industrial, half-residential character, 15 young Virginia architects decided to focus on the neighborhood for a group project. They knew the last thing Manchester needed was another master plan to add to the shelf, says Norfolk architect Thom White — let alone “a bunch of boring research.” The city suggested they create some new renderings of sidewalks.

Instead the team — all members of a leadership class sponsored by the Virginia Society of the American Institute of Architects — ditched the traditional charts-and-charets model of urban planning and tried something more fun.

In a sawdust-strewn workshop at SMBW Architects, they built an airy wooden shelter that invites Manchester residents to share their vision for the neighborhood. Inside is a booth with a clear plastic window and markers for people to draw on the view: “You can sketch right on what you see,” White says. There’s also a bench and a metal wall with magnets to post notes, business cards or flyers.

The project’s philosophy is that residents, not outside experts, should drive the reshaping of neighborhoods. Instead of, “Hey, community, here’s what you should do,” it’s “Hey, community, let’s have a conversation,” White says. The team expects to hear people talk about the lack of grocery stores, Richmond architect Amrit Singh says, as well as the traffic that rushes along Commerce Road and divides Manchester in two.

The kiosk, which fits into a standard parking space and can be broken down into four sections, will travel to different spots in Manchester. Its first stop will be at 201 Hull St., just south of the Mayo Bridge, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8. On Sunday it will move to Tricycle Gardens at Bainbridge and West Ninth streets. And on Oct. 15, it will appear at the Hull Street Library.

The architects will document everything and present their findings at the Architecture Exchange East conference in Richmond from Nov. 2-4. Then they’ll try to find a new home for the kiosk, maybe in another Virginia city.

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