Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Building for the Teenage

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (Center for Environmental Structure Series)In a previous life I worked at a company that published books about home improvement and design, and I was very interested in residential architectural stuff. I stumbled on to a book called A Pattern Language by an architect and Berkeley professor named Christopher Alexander and several collaborators. It's a fascinating book about the ways humans divide up the spaces they live in, from a planetary scale to a room scale. The "patterns" of the book are archetypal design challenges that the authors have identified and solutions to those challenges that the author propose. I think the book is fascinating to anyone who occupies space (and that would be everyone), but for the purposes of this blog, I think the two patterns that directly address teenage life are very interesting.

Pattern 84 is called Teenage Society. Here's the problem:
"Teenage is the time of passage between childhood and adulthood. In traditional societies, this passage is accompanied by rites which suit the psychological demands of the transition. But in modern society the 'high school' fails entirely to provide this passage."

And here's a taste of the solution:

"We believe that teenagers in a town, boys and girls from age 12 to 18, should be encouraged to form a miniature society, in which they are as differentiated, and as mutually responsible, as the adults in full scale society . . . . Therefore: Replace the 'high school' with an institution which is actually a model of adult society. . . ."

Here's the other teenage pattern, number 154 Teenager's Cottage:

"If a teenager's place in the home does not reflect his need for a measure of independence, he will be locked in conflict with his family."

There solution is what they call the "teenage cottage." The whole description of how they conceive the space is really interesting to me. They see space as a way to help a teenager redefine their connection to the family--still connected, but also independent. Here's the solution:

"To mark a child's coming of age, transform his place in the home into a kind of cottage that expresses in a physical way the beginnings of independence. Keep the cottage attached to the home, but make it a distinctly visible bulge, far away from the master bedroom, with a private entrance, perhaps its own roof."
The authors are confident of the archetypal nature of all the problems they identify, but they rate their solutions on a zero-to-three scale to measure how elemental they believe their solutions are--whether they believe there are solutions to the problem that don't incorporate elements of their solution (scoring a zero) or they believe no solution is possible without incorporating theirs (a three). Both of these score a zero. Interesting.

Their first pattern-solution pair seems like Lord of the Flies to me, but I find the second really interesting. I'm sure you could find dozens of examples of this in practice in YA novels and teen TV. (Anybody else thinking of that Beach Boys song, "In My Room"?)


Brian Mandabach said...

Interesting. The addition that my dad built was a lot like the teen cottage. My three oldest brothers lived out there in thier teens, and in addition to a bathroom, it had a phone booth. (an alcove in the hall with phone in it) This was in the 60s and an extra phone line was not common, but there were 8 people in the family. My other brother moved out there in his teens too.

Brian Mandabach said...

Oh, and my older brothers provided a lot of the labor!

Anne Spollen said...

I want to know who cleans the teenage cottage (including getting the once-wet-and-now-fossilized socks from under the beds).

Maggie Stiefvater said...

The first ones definitely smacks of Lord of the Flies to me (and I could so picture SOMEONE low on the pecking order getting eaten), but the second one is a great idea, I think. I had a very isolated room as a teen, which I spent much time doing what I could only call brooding (generally wearing black and slouching over a keyboard tapping my Great Life Works because I was certain I was going to die by the time I was 30).

And Anne, I cleaned my room - because I didn't want anyone else in there!

Debbie Reed Fischer said...

I like the second idea too, although some boys in my neighborhood had a tiny basement with a separate entrance from the rest of the house and it was a very popular hang-out for a lot of teens in the area. It was known as a walk-in bong.

A.S. King said...

For her 13th birthday a friend of mine got a pair of frilly knickers and a key to her own flat. I do not recommend this.
Like Maggie, my teenage freedom was in part due to doing my own chores. Laundry & cleaning meant adults weren't in my business.

Walk-in bong! Ha! I've been to a few of those!