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Award-winning Teen Zone welcomes young library patrons in East Liberty

teen zone
Mandy Fields Yokim
December10/ 2015

Teens want their space, and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is happy to give it to them.

At the East Liberty branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP), located front and center along the window, you’ll find the Teen Zone, a thoughtfully designed area that encourages creativity and collaboration.

This new space, along with the one in development at the Knoxville branch, was designed by GBBN Architects, a Pittsburgh firm which beat out over 150 other project submissions to earn the Citation of Merit award by AIA Pennsylvania.

Funded in part by the library’s capital campaign and the Cindy and Murry Gerber Foundation, the goal of the Teen Zone space was to increase and sustain the library’s engagement with teens, says Kelly Rottmund, teen services coordinator at CLP. “Our vision for serving teens in the library works from the idea that there are three tiers of engagement. Tier 1 is about the idea that the library is a welcoming space. Tier 2 is about helping them see the library as a resource to fulfill their needs. Ultimately, Tier 3 helps teens see the library as a place where they can contribute, guide programs and make a difference in the community,” she says.

With this vision in mind, GBBN Architects developed a design concept that incorporated the input of local teens as well as research from MIT about what kinds of spaces teens need to grow and evolve.  

The final design for East Liberty included three distinct spaces intended to inspire different levels of engagement and activity. The Living Room space, with its comfy chairs and TV, creates a casual environment for socializing and hanging out in small groups. Rottmund says this room is used for playing board games, video gaming, watching movies and just talking.

Adjacent to the Living Room is the Collaboration space, which is less casual with its tables and chairs but still perfect for small group projects and doing homework. Finally, the Studio space is for intense focus and hands-on programs and workshops.

In the Studio space, Rottmund says teens participate in a variety of activities at the digital workstations like creating stop motion animation, using the 3-D printer, designing in Photoshop, and recording music on the electronic keyboard. There’s also a big, wooden work table where teens can set up sewing machines and do other heavy duty projects.

Since the renovation, use of the space has increased as has the programming within it. “I think the most rewarding thing is to see that the space is being used productively. A space should inspire people, especially when we have all these new technologies that are changing the way people think about information,” says Anne Chen, principal at GBBN Architects.

The new space was created using 3-D computer modeling. Over about two months, it was fabricated offsite by a local production company directly from the model. Installation of the space at the East Liberty library took about two weeks.

The Knoxville Teen Zone is set to open summer of 2016.

The sense of ownership that the teens feel for the space is very rewarding for Rottmund to witness. “I watch the teens give tours of the space and answer questions for new people. It has been really lovely to have the teens be the ones to invite people into the space.”

Mandy Fields Yokim

Mandy Fields Yokim is a nationally published writer and editor based in the Pittsburgh area. Her work has appeared in Parents Magazine, Blue Ridge Country Magazine, NEXTpittsburgh, Kidsburgh, TEQ Magazine, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and nearly 20 parenting publications across the United States and Canada. Her blog posts have appeared online at Pittsburgh Magazine, Kid World Citizen and Wonderaddo, the global education initiative she founded in 2013 to encourage kids and families to explore the world in Pittsburgh. She is contributing editor of regional books such as Grit, Smoke and Steam, Ultimate Pittsburgh Trivia and Bridges of Pittsburgh.