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The Youth Opportunity Design Approach (YODA)

by Maria Provini on April 27, 2018

By Maria Provini, maria.provini@yahoo.com, MLIS student – Syracuse University (May 2018 graduate), Clarence Dillon Public Library, Bedminster, NJ.

Did the word “YODA” catch your eye too?  Anything involving a little green, gruff voiced Star Wars icon would get anyone’s attention, right?  Well that and anything involving “youth” jumps out at me too.  I attended a PLA 2018 program entitled “The Youth Opportunity Design Approach (YODA)” and got more than I anticipated!

First off YODA doesn’t have anything to do with that that green character after all, although his image did make an appearance during Friday’s session hosted by Christopher Noll (architect and founding principal of Noll & Tam Architects), Alyson Yarus, (an Associate Principal of Noll & Tam Architects), and Professor Anthony Bernier, of San Jose State University, San Jose, CA.

The YODA:  Youth Opportunity Design Approach is an engagement process Noll and Tam Architects began in 2008.  Noll and Tam wanted to truly involve young people in designing tangible large spaces for an entire library, not just a small “teen space.”  And once you see their finished work, you will clearly see that they did!

During the late 1990-2000s, the PLPYD (The Public Libraries as Partners in Youth Development) wanted to have Teen Centered Library Services.  Yes they wanted teen participation in programming, teen participation in technology, and TAGs (Teen Advisory Groups), but what PLPYD found was that there was no input or partnering for creating teen spaces, teen design, or buildings.

That is where Christopher Noll and Alyson Yarus of Berkeley, California come into play.  Back in 2008, the architect group assembled teams of architects, librarians, and local youth to begin to redesign an 8,000 square foot “real” space for the Berkeley YMCA-PG&E Teen Center.  Teens were going to be at the heart of the process – they were going to actively be engaged in all aspects of design and planning for this center.  It was a “for the teens, by the teens” kind of project, engaging teens alongside real estate developers, project managers and program directors, in all aspects of design and planning to ensure that the center was teen-friendly and teen-focused from beginning to end.

Photo of the completed Berkeley YMCA-PG&E Teen Center, Berkeley, California, – Noll and Tam Architects.

Local teens were hired by the YMCA to run the project, they were paid salaries, and they embarked on a committed project that was better than any internship experience. Together they created an exciting opportunity to transform an active, highly visible corner of real estate in an existing downtown civic center, that would involve teens as an integral part of the design and construction process. So where does YODA come in? Read on:

Y  Youth participation, Youth involvement, Youth civic engagement, Youth partners, and Youth voice.

O  Opportunity:  The team from Noll & Tam Architects wanted real involvement from the people who would be utilizing the space, not just from the librarians or staff workers at the facility. Hearing from a variety of individuals and teens in the communities where these Teen Centers, Libraries, YMCAs, and Art Centers would be located, provided a great forum for the designers to tap into the creativity and imaginations of youth.  What was needed they realized was the true drive of design and inspiration – the youth of the community.

D & A  Design Approach:  Many design meetings and countless learning opportunities were held with the group of architects and teens. There were field trips to construction sites, visits to hardware stores and to industrial furniture shops. There were hands-on prototypes to be made. There were thoughts to be noted, journals to be written in, questions to be answered, and tons of discussion boards to be reviewed. This was real, hands-on work!  And along the way the members of the group (both adult and teen) learned from each other, captured results, and produced real physical spaces.

The architects’ goal for the Youth Opportunity Design Approach was to:  educate, record and analyze, inform, and design. The team of Noll and Tam Architects not only educated these teens, but they fostered enthusiastic engagement in the creation and design of monumental Teen Spaces Projects, touching the communities who were a part of it all.

Please check out further YODA projects from the team of Noll and Tam Architects like the Hayward Public Library and at the Palo Alto Mobile Teen Makerspace Project (Make X).  To see more of their work visit http://www.nollandtam.com/portfolio/pge.


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