Thursday, 1 May 2014

An inspirational building for Sydenham youth

I’ve just visited The New Generation youth centre in Sydenham (TNG to its users). Completed in 2013 for Lewisham Council by RCKa, taking advantage of the last dregs of the MyPlace funding put in place by the Labour Government, it entailed a huge amount of consultation and engagement with various stakeholders – the future users, the locals, the providers of youth services and the council who have to run the building. The scheme went through many revisions as a result of local and user feedback. Its entrance was shifted from facing the main road to facing a side road, with a park entrance opposite, setting up a pleasing connection with this green space (Sydenham Wells Park) and also providing users with a sense of privacy and occasion. The interior is all pale wood, with large graphics and a dearth of dayglo colours – at the request of the young people, who wanted something more aspirational than the youth centre norm.

TNG youth centre glows like a beacon at night

What I love most about this building is its connectivity. For example, when you’re in the main, double height entrance space/gathering place, you can see into almost every area: the climbing wall beside you, the cafĂ© below, the outdoor games court beyond and the smaller games area inside and up a storey, as well as all the smaller rooms where dance, music and drama activities are visible through large windows. It reminds me of the ‘start page’ of my teenage son’s Nokia phone where, at a glance, he can see a whole menu of enticing options and entertainments. 

Views through to surrounding areas heighten connectivity 

I imagine its population of ‘digital natives’ also love the way the building lights up at night, its windows glowing like gems set within the semi-translucent polycarbonate cladding, evoking the luminous electronic screens of their beloved laptops/phones and yet opening up a very real, physical, interactive and life-enhancing community to them.

A state of the art climbing wall

Of the finished result Kleiner says: ‘‘It was a pleasure working with these young people (and seeing) how sharp and engaged and intelligent and forthright they are about what they wanted. It was great seeing how many positive things can come out of having (the stakeholders) on board. It can be slightly more challenging and the goalposts have to shift a bit more. You have to work a bit harder as an architect and be a bit more nimble but when you get to where you want to, there’s so much more buy in.’

The building works for two as well as it does for 200