It’s 2017. The millennium is in its teenage years—and it shows.
The world is acting out—making rash, impulsive decisions whose repercussions may be irreparable. The body politic is moody, volatile, and uncompromising. We were born into Y2K and 9/11; our youth is part of a string of crises and rapid evolutions. Can the physical landscape weather our collective turmoil? Adolescence may be “just a phase,” but architecture, infrastructure, and policy are hard to undo.
What does it mean to be 17 in 2017? This issue of Harvard Design Magazine checks in with teens of all sorts—humans, buildings, objects, ideas—and their impact on the spatial imagination. Like a bildungsroman for the built environment, “Seventeen” dives into the treacherous, exhilarating limbo of the teen years to understand and reclaim this global adolescence.
Though stereotyped as indignant or apathetic, teenagers are also wildly optimistic, passionate, creative, and resourceful. But teenagehood is not just a physical and emotional transition; it is also a spatial one. Bursting out of their childhood homes, teens crave autonomy—so they roam the streets, escape to virtual worlds, or hide out in bedrooms; they claim vacant lots, parks, and garages as turf; and they cruise, chill, or hang—euphemisms for the “whatever” that may or may not occur in these marginal spaces. For a discipline that defines space according to program and purpose, the nebulous teen hangout is easily overlooked; but openness, placelessness, and aimlessness offer a realm for fantasy, common ground, and action—especially in times of challenged freedoms.
Like all teenagers, we are asking: who are we, where do we fit in, and how can we, too, make our marks—as impactful designers and as an evolving discipline? In a divided, temperamental 2017, there is much to learn from the teenager.