How to Design an Art Studio

Jul 26, 2017 · 5 min read

Lessons from the 2017 #HackYourClassroom Contest winners

by room2learn

Shout out to all the educators who upload innovative designs and classroom “hacks” to our site daily! This summer, we were so inspired by your work that we teamed up with NAC Architecture to host a competition that celebrates you and your creative designs. When we met NAC back at SXSWedu, a partnership was a no-brainer. NAC and room2learn share the same ethos — NAC creates more than a building. Their passion lies in creating meaningful learning environments that spark creativity, support learning, and encourage innovation, just as you do.

This classroom design campaign asked teachers from across the country to upload images and explanations about their classroom redesign. For us, the winner would solve a clear space problem, involve diverse stakeholders, and increase creativity, engagement, and personalization.

Our winners — Nicole, Chris, and John from Chicago Tech Academy — raised the bar by reimagining their art studio with their entire school community in mind. Let’s take a deep dive into their vision, problem, process, solutions, and results.

The Vision:

We were most impressed with how this trio began with a vision. As a team, they knew that investing in their school’s art studio would benefit the entire school — the work that comes out of this studio will “soon line the hallways and signal to [their] community that [they] are capable of beautiful work.” They even came up with a mission statement: “Place equals space plus values.” These ChiTech teachers understood implicitly that space is more than the walls you put up and the furniture you arrange. Space becomes a meaningful place when every design choice is purposeful.

The Problem:

ChiTech has newly established itself as project-based learning school, which brings fresh excitement, but some struggles too. Nicole defined the problem as such:

“8th period is 30 students each working on their own art projects. They are crammed into an art room that was originally designed for elementary school students. In 8th period, all of the issues are on full display — classroom management is difficult, art supplies are mistreated, and there is work everywhere.”

While the classroom was always bursting with art pieces and the energy of Nicole’s PBL-centered pedagogy, something wasn’t quite right. Driven by a desire to create a better environment for their students, the teachers embarked on their design journey.

The Design Process:

Inspired by Third Teacher Plus and Edutopia’s “Remake Your Class” series, Nicole, Chris, and John used a 5-step design process. It went like this:

  1. Discover: The trio printed out a map of Nicole’s classroom and tracked her movements and the students’ movements to better understand the flow of the classroom. They also informally polled students in the classroom to figure out their pain points.
  2. Interpret: Then, they determined three “design opportunities” based on Nicole’s ideas and Chris and John’s observations. They were designated spaces for different activities, self-sufficient storage for students to intuitively know how to use and organize art supplies, and tidiness for maintaining the flow or old and new projects
  3. Ideate: In a 90-minute session, they brainstormed as many ideas as possible!
  4. Prototype: In the same session, they used LEGOS to sketch and build their favorite ideas. At the end of the session, they had a new classroom layout to build out.
  5. Create: To execute, the classroom layout turned into a series of mini-projects. Teachers and student volunteers worked together to complete the redesign in just a week.

The Storage Solution:

Here is how the team explained their storage hacks:

  • Removed cabinet doors invite students to use art supplies while at the same time, non-verbally communicating where they should be returned.
  • Stenciled signage identifies what belongs in closed shelves.
  • A mallet on a string lives next to the paints to remind students to close paint properly.
  • Locked cabinet doors store power tools and expensive materials so Nicole can control when they are in use.

The Tidiness and Flow Solution:

To help with tidiness, the teachers used these two hacks. Here’s how they explained them:

  • A hallway entrance is created by putting the portfolio shelves and an announcement partition on opposite sides of the doorway. This slows down the speed of traffic and aides in the routine of getting and returning your portfolio at the beginning and end of class.
  • Storing portfolios vertically allows students to access their work without shuffling through a stack of portfolios. We used string as a cost effective vertical barrier.

To read more about this team’s design solutions, check out their submission here. Their use of artificial grass as a designated collaborative space should not be missed!

The Results:

Our winners are still gathering data after their space overhaul, but upon reflecting on how the space is beginning to be used now, Nicole says:

“Being able to sit back and watch how kids walk through that space I see that kids are definitely more aware of where they’re going and what they’re looking for. Through observing I’ve been able to watch how they use the space. The critique space is used a lot — it stood out to me, and my project board is a big success in making information easier to access and see. There are less distractions in the room and I see students more focused — gives them more clarity in what they’re trying to do with their work. Now students have a good idea of where materials are and where to put it back — there’s been greater efficiency in their work.”

Congratulations again to our winners! We’re inspired by the work you do daily to provide a safe, enriching space for your students.

As always, we want to see and hear about your edu-innovations. Share your layouts with us on and tweet us at @HackClassrooms!


Designing 21st century learning spaces


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learning is changing, classrooms have not. let’s make room to learn!


Designing 21st century learning spaces

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