Creating an I.D.E.A. Studio in our Lower School

2015-09-02 18.22.33

Now: Our I.D.E.A. Studio

After exploring more of SketchUp this week, I took time to create a model of the redesign that happened to our Lower School storage closet this past summer. There was a lot of work that had to happen to transform it from a closet to the I.D.E.A. (the Imagination Destination at Episcopal Academy) Studio that it is today!

2015-06-08 15.35.27

Before: The Storage Closet

To create my initial designs, I pulled on a variety of resources, including books like Invent to Learn and Make Space, online web searches for furniture and room design, my background in the Reggio Emilia approach, and visits to numerous other innovation/makerspaces. I also thought about what worked well and what challenges I had experienced with my previous space (a traditional computer lab) and facilitating an after-school Maker Club (cardboard everywhere!).

This background research and experience helped me to create the key tenets (Fleming, 2015) I knew I wanted for the space:

  • Agility and flexibility – furniture that could be moved and changed quickly and often (Barrett, Zhang, Moffat & Kobbacy, 2013; Martinez & Stager, 2013)
  • Accessibility – materials visible and openly accessible to students (Martinez & Stager, 2013)
  • Inviting – a warm, welcoming space people want to spend time in
  • Imaginative – a space that inspires you to be creative and playful (OWP/P Architects et al., 2010)
  • Engaging – interactive walls and tools that invite visitors to be create and be hands-on (OWP/P Architects et al., 2010, Martinez & Stager, 2013)
  • Resource-rich – full of tools and materials for digital and low-res creation (Martinez & Stager, 2013)

One of the challenges of our new space was that it was underground and windowless, so lights were a very important variable. Below, you can see one of my sketches, outlining interactive wall surfaces and creative, fun lighting (various forms of clouds):

The hope was that our walls would allow for students to have ample spaces to prototype ideas, whether they be in Lego, with magnets, with dry-erase sketches, or on pegboard and also to provide students with varied spaces for them to express themselves (OWP/P Architects et al., 2010).

After recreating this design (constructed this summer) in SketchUp, I began to plan out “Phase 2” of the space (take a tour of it below). These are additional changes to the space that we hope to make in the future but were not possible in the first year given time and budget constraints.

Phase 2 changes include adding a green wall of living plants as you walk into the space, to further increase the inviting, welcoming feel of the room and literally bring some of the outdoors in (OWP/P Architects et al., 2010). I also created a loft space to store cardboard and materials. Currently, that corner of the room has a custom-built storage container for different size cardboard. There is also access to water in that corner and I want to take advantage of it by putting sinks there. Having sinks will make it much easier for students to clean up messy projects (and hands) and also for us to use water to test prototypes (e.g., floating vessels). I designed a loft so that I could still use the corner for storage but underneath, there would be access to sinks.

The next change I want to make is an upgrade to the shelving we have lining one wall. Currently, there are variety of metal bookcases but I want to replace them with some more modern, colorful storage. In SketchUp, I added a creatively shaped unit that represents my hope to have a mix of shelves with one or two nooks for students to sit and do work. There is also a shelf for our 3D printer, laser cutter, and other high-tech machines.

These changes would involve custom-building the loft and new shelving, purchasing sinks and adding the necessary plumbing, and buying the right indoor plants and the lights needed for them to survive. It is definitely something that would require a large allotment of funding from the school and the support of our administrative and facilities teams. I think that making these changes as part of a staged progression (i.e, Phase 2) makes it more manageable than if we had tried to do everything at once. These updated designs continue to support our goals of making the space inviting, imaginative, accessible, and resource-rich.

Check out this video tour of the space created in SketchUp:


Barrett, P., Zhang, Y., Moffat, J., & Kobbacy, K. (2013). A holistic, multi-level analysis identifying the impact of classroom design on on pupils’ learning. Building and Environment, 59, 678-689. doi:

Fleming, L. (2015). Worlds of making: Best practices for establishing a makerspace for your school. California: Corwin.

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to learn: Making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom. Torrance, Calif: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

OWP/P Architects., VS Furniture., & Bruce Mau Design. (2010). The third teacher: 79 ways you can use design to transform teaching & learning. New York: Abrams.


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