Over a two year period beginning January 2006, LowDO collaborated on the design of a new youth center for UTEC, a 'by-teens, for-teen, multicultural safehaven' in downtown Lowell.
While the city of Lowell seeks an identity beyond its heritage dating from the American industrial revolution, today’s young generation seeks a collective voice within the city’s urban politics. The teen center offers 20 weekly programs to over 1500 youth each year.
UTEC’s approach to working with youth intertwines three related strategies: building community and support networks in a safe haven drop-in environment; empowering youth via grassroots organizing; and drawing new teens into the program through highly visible staff outreach. Youth participate in all levels of decision-making, including representation as paid staff and members of the board. Central to outreach efforts are UTEC staff “street workers,” some former gang members themselves, who spend their afternoons with youth on the streets of Lowell, acting as role models, confidantes, and informal links between the Center and its urban context.
In January 2006 UTEC purchased the former St Paul's Methodist Church at 34 Hurd Street, a landmark 1847 building adjacent to the Downtown Lowell Historic District and a five minute walk from UTEC’s previous Merrimack Street location. Together with an adjacent green space at 44 Hurd Street, this new home for UTEC offers new opportunities for UTEC’s expanding youth membership and programming.
The total design brief called for 20,000 sf of program, including: 3,500 sf of outdoor green space; gymnasium/large multi-purpose space; fitness center; dance studio; black-box theater; sound recording lab; video production suite; computer repair workshop; computer lab; mediation room; offices, classrooms and lounge. The existing building totals approx. 10,000 and the Phase 2 addition will provide the remainder.
LOWDO began a joint process with the Youth Design of United Teen Equality Center to articulate a vision for UTEC’s new teen center. Top priorities included learning about ‘green’ building strategies and developing a core group of young people with an understanding of not only how different aspects of UTEC interact organizationally, but also their specific spatial requirements. Through design charrettes and field trips to places like a teen center in neighboring Lawrence, South Boston’s Artists for Humanity, Dorchester’s Bird Street Community Center, ROCA in Chelsea and Zumix in East Boston, the Boston Nature Center’s model green building, Gehry’s Stata Center and the Genzyme Center, etc. teens learned more about architecture and tested their own ideas for the new UTEC against a host of precedents.
During the summer of 2006, LOWDO volunteered with UTEC as GSD Community Service Fellows, developing a schematic design for Phase 1 (initial renovation and move-in):
Phase 2 (construction of addition):
and Phase 3 (total renovation of existing building). Given UTEC’s mandate of youth leadership, the project sought throughout to involve teens from UTEC’s youth design team in all aspects of the design process. LOWDO completed Phase 1 as design-build and also recieved, with UTEC, a community grant from the Mogan Cultural Center and Lowell National Historic Park for light-based art installation Projecting Voices.