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vPPR returns to the public space needs of teenagers

A ‘family of little follies’ near the Camden Highline creates spaces for teens to watch, perform, relax or be active in for Public Space Design Day, a rethink of common areas without cars

Project team:
Catherine Pease (director)
Michelle Wong (architect)
Stephanie Lloyd (architectural designer)

‘Teenagers are too old for the playground and too young for the pub’, says Catherine Pease. They cannot legally drive, so society’s reliance on cars limits their freedom of movement further still. And due to a gender bias in public sports facilities, girls are even less well catered for than boys. Moreover, unlike countries such as Germany where play areas are frequented by children and teens alike, British teenagers are often embarrassed to be seen in ‘children’s domains’. All this means that teenagers ‘are left with nowhere to go’. These nascent members of adult society, impressionable yet striving to navigate their place in the world, are marginalised in the public realm.

Drawing on an existing project, ‘Play with(out) Grounds’ (2019), vPPR’s intervention comprises of a series of structures for teenagers to occupy. 

Measures such as open corners balance safety with privacy.
Measures such as open corners balance safety with privacy.

Positioned along the proposed Camden Highline (an elevated greenway occupying a disused railway, designed by vPPR), these form a ‘family of little follies’. They are connected via sight-lines and unified by a shared palette of pale concrete brick, dialoguing with each other and with their streets.

The Camden Highline area is characterised by an overlap of railway arches, disused elevated tracks and narrow surrounding streets. The follies would play a connecting role while each addressing a context-specific need, activating the space around them. They are intended to encourage different types of civic participation, from performance to commerce – a place for being, a place for watching, a place for entrepreneurship and so on. In one situation, the structure suggests a zone for performance, with concentric seating; in another, origami-like folds offer surfaces and corners to relax in privacy.

A series of structures for teenagers to occupy forms a ‘family of little follies’

  • vPPR elaborated on its design for the Camden Highline.
    vPPR elaborated on its design for the Camden Highline.
  • Crisp, monochrome Capel White stock was selected.
    Crisp, monochrome Capel White stock was selected.

The follies’ forms were in part inspired by Aldo van Eyck’s sculpture pavilion in concrete blockwork at Sonsbeek, Arnhem. The simplicity of concrete bricks, proposed vPPR’s Stephanie Lloyd, makes for a calm, sober exterior but potential to create ‘magical spaces’ on the inside, open to appropriation like a teenager’s bedroom.

What teenagers lack is ‘a private space but within a public place’, suggests Pease, and these structures are intended to provide security – ‘safety in being seen’ -– balancing public visibility with much needed privacy. 

See all the ideas explored by the five practices on the day



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