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02 May, 2009

Hanging With Teens

Posted by: admin In: Tate

Calling all teenagers: if you could design your perfect space to hang out in at Tate Modern, what would you put in it? What would it look like?

In Channel 4’s Skins, the teenagers hang out mostly in a park in Bristol. Outside of tellyland, teens do similar things – in Manchester they congregate around Urbis, the trendy modern gallery dedicated to cities and their teeming street life. In London, it’s Camden’s canalside market, or the skate park in the concrete bunker below Royal Festival Hall, or Topshop Oxford Circus’s ground floor café, which benefits from having a fashion demonstration space and giant screens showing catwalk footage and blaring pop.


Wolverhampton’s Pop Art Gallery

There aren’t that many dedicated leisure spaces for teens, although they flock to places that get the mix of style and activities right. Teens just like to gather wherever their friends are, and where there are cool things to do, away from adults and certainly away from younger kids. Mobiles and the internet have changed teenage life immeasurably, promoting a passion for communication that’s a world away from the archetypal teenager of the 1990s. All these habits and activities should influence the design of a teen space at Tate Modern.

Such a space should offer its users a distinctive environment, and be flexible enough to host a range of activities – painting projects, informal gigs, performances and discussions with artists could all take place there.

Generally, you’d expect to find such a place stocked with books, headphones to listen to music and podcasts, screens showing film content created specially for this area, and computers to browse online art archives. This might make for a space that’s like a cross between a café lounge, a library and a music store. If you look at the popularity of outlets like the Apple Store, teens love good design.

One British gallery has already taken a very teen-centric approach to one of its areas. At Wolverhampton Art Gallery, the idea behind the Pop Art gallery, designed by Airside and mae architects, is to create somewhere that teens like to hang out, surrounded by fashionable artwork. There, vibrant pop art prints hang in a plain white gallery with a huge white circular sofa in the centre, encouraging groups of teens to gather. Films are projected onto the walls, featuring an actor dressed as Andy Warhol who explains who all the people in the paintings are. White iMacs provide further chances to explore and enjoy this zingy art movement and its connections to music, celebrities and American culture.

Compared to the rest of the new Tate, Tate’s teen space could be a bit more eccentric in its décor. A few choice items of furniture could be bold and unconventional, enticing teens to enjoy design that they don’t get to see in everyday life, like Arne Jacobsen’s 1958 classic Egg chair, or any contemporary design by the Campana Brothers, whose ideas are based on the favelas in their native Brazil. This multipurpose swivel seat by Swedish designer Fredrik Mattson has definite teen appeal.

A glance at Flickr shows that American libraries seem to have got the design of teen spaces carefully perfected. These areas for teen books seem to host all sorts of other activities: Jacksonville Public Library in Florida is a definite social hub. Its Myspace is pretty active, but so is the space itself, with large sculptural seating areas in bold colours and lots of changing collages and display areas.

In Rem Koolhaas’s breathtaking Seattle Public Library building the teens aren’t overlooked, getting a dedicated floor with a vibrant red interior in which to lounge about (bold primary reds, yellows and lime green interiors seem to be a regular theme in teen-land).


Minneapolis Central Library – photograph by Flickr user webchicken. Licensed under Creative Commons

Believe it or not, the best teen hang-out looks to be in Minneapolis. Designed by teens for teens, the Central Library’s teen area is furnished with bean bags, vending machines and very cool portable book trolleys with curving metal frames. But the main focal point is a large silver wipe-clean wall where people can write stuff in marker pen. (All that freedom can get a bit out of hand, though.)

Tate has had similar displays for visitor comments at the Turner Prize, and these would be a great permanent feature for a teen space to record ideas and messages. But we want to hear from you – what would you put there?

Read the original post on The Great Tate Mod Blog

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