Makerspaces In the Classroom

By:  Joshua Evans


Yet another fruitful discussion over lunch...

The topic: Makerspaces.

A makerspace is any physical space that specifically facilitates interdisciplinary project based learning and that supports methods for engaging learners in higher-order problem solving through hands on design.

The burning questions: What role(s) should we as architects and designers play in the implementation of Makerspaces? What are the challenges and obstacles facing the creation of academic makerspaces in schools?

Discussion Conclusions:

●      Team up with Educators

While most teachers are aware of the need to provide an experiential learning experience that keeps students engaged, it may prove difficult to develop such experiences in spaces designed for students almost a century ago.  Academic makerspaces provide educators with the tools necessary to keep students with diverse and alternative learning styles engaged. As design professionals, we can and should be advocates for the integration of academic makerspaces into 21st century education. As designers, not educators, our role extends past employing age-old and often outdated strategies for the creation and renovation of schools. Re-imagine, propose, and promote - as professionals specifically responsible for envisioning how people can occupy new and successful spaces, we would be a proven asset to any school board that wants to make the jump towards reinvigorating their school and curriculum. An academic space aligned with school culture and value will be the most successful.


●      Test Scores ≠ Lifetime Success

Design professionals are lifetime learners too, and we would be the first to tell you that in our field, project based learning encourages problem solving in a constantly evolving and collaborative setting. Academic makerspaces facilitate learning in a variety of modes that are key to eventual success in a collaborative working environment. Hands on learning, an integral aspect to any makerspace curriculum, promotes more engagement among students by allowing them to directly observe what is happening while creating physical evidence of learning. Students are able to think outside of typical lesson plans, take ownership of their learning, and discover new interests along the way.


●      Reappropriate & Locate

Space in schools comes at a premium. The academic makerspace is a very new concept, so a lot has to be considered when integrating them into schools designed as early as the 1930s. Reappropriating program spaces like, unused classrooms, former vocational training classrooms, art rooms and even libraries to accommodate an academic makerspace are key strategies to ensure that makerspaces can take hold. Any space is a potential makerspace!  As designers, it's up to us to pave the way for integrating project based learning spaces. It is our job to help educators plan for their implementation. The scope of an academic makerspace is important to consider - if it’s a shared space available during school hours, the extent to which it can have an impact changes greatly compared to a makerspace that is only available during after school hours. The typical classroom layout: four walls, rows of forward facing chairs should not set the basis for 21st century education. The fact that the makerspace is not designed according the the archetypal classroom allows it to have greater flexibility. Experimentation of different space organizations in schools are opportunities, not risks.



OCP Media. “IF YOU BUILD IT (Official Trailer)”. Online Video Clip. Vimeo. Wednesday November 20, 2013.

Project H Design. “No Reason To Be Bored”. Online Video Clip. Vimeo. Wednesday March 11, 2015.

Raths, David. “8 Design Steps for an Academic Makerspace”. THE Journal (2015): 1-5. Print.

Fisher, Erin. “Makerspaces Move into Academic Libraries”. ACRL TechConnect Blog (2012): 1-5. Print.

“Makerspaces”. EDUCAUSE (ELI): 7 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT…(2013): 1-2. Print.

Susan Aitken on Inclusive Design

By:  Susan Aitken

Design is about more than building buildings - it's about building relationships.  Our job is to get to know our clients, so that we can fulfill and exceed their expectations and needs.  We enjoy this part of the process immensely, because we want our buildings to relate to people personally, not just institutionally.

Community Design

We take a proactive approach to eliciting community input and feedback using interviews, meetings, hands-on workshops, presentations, and surveys as needed, and regularly check in to make sure we have heard correctly.  Providing stakeholders with the information necessary to truly participate is an important part of the collaborative process.  We share our expertise about how the built environment can meet the project's goals and provide stakeholders with decision-making tools necessary to keep the project with budget, scope and schedule.

Better Solutions

The point of the collaborative design process is to come up with an even better solution.  Our collaborative design process for a new addition at Sheridan Elementary provide a novel solution that pleased everyone involved.  We included a joint-use auditorium available for neighborhood use, student assembly and performance.  The new space allowed the school's aging music labs to be converted much needed art / science project-based learning studios, while the sidewalk siting of the auditorium, with a separate entry, makes it easy for community access while minimizing disruption of school activities and ensuring school security after hours.

Thomas Lawrence on Historic Sensitivity

By:  Thomas Lawrence

I harbor a special interest in concrete buildings, so I was excited to get the opportunity to design a renovation for the historic Sunshine School in San Francisco, now home to Hilltop High School and the San Francisco Family Service Agency.  Completed in 1937, the WPA school was designed for children with health ailments, including polio.

The school originally housed eighteen classrooms, offices for nurses, a spacious courtyard, and a therapeutic bathing pool.   The building had many unique historic features that we wanted to keep or pay homage to while providing for the building's current mixed uses, which include the continuation high school for pregnant teens, an infant / toddler child development center, and a social service agency.


We took advantage of restoration opportunities throughout the building.  For instance, the building's original light fixtures in the lobby and dining room were restored and reinstalled.  A 1950's era elevator addition to the courtyard was removed, and a new elevator was installed in a more central location off of the original lobby entrance.  

Skylights in the second story wings that originally served as napping dormitories were replaced with new translucent insulated panels to reduce the temperature swings from solar heat gain and loss, while maintaining the original natural daylighting.  

The site's mosaic-tiled hydrotherapy pool was saved and reconfigured as part of the school's kitchen and serving line.


When we found worn out finishes that could not be restored, we designed reinterpretations to honor the idea from the past.  For instance, modern versions of various tile patterns were used in the restrooms, for signage and for gates.  Accent colors were derived form the original stenciled concrete beams.  New light fixtures give a nod to the site's past, and exterior concrete signage compliments the building's original embossed concrete signage.

Chad Hamilton on Design for Education

By:  Chad Hamilton

Hamilton + Aitken Architects has a passion for designing learning environments.  We view education design as an opportunity to spark imagination, support institutional identity, and foster community development.  Every campus space – from hallway to cafeteria to classroom – has the potential to be an inspirational learning environment.  Most of our firm's work is focused on improving educational environments.


Providing a variety of types and sizes of spaces inside and outside the classroom accommodates the diverse learning needs of students.  For instance, small breakout spaces – such as tucked-away tables, niches, small rooms, covered patios, and soft seating areas – can provide areas for individual and small group work, one-on-one student-student or student-teacher tutoring, group meetings, and collaborative project spaces, as well as socialization opportunities.  Attention to the design of both formal and informal learning environments provides "anytime, anywhere" learning opportunities.

Furniture is incredibly important to educational design, and is often relegated to the bottom of the funding food chain.  Easily movable tables and chairs make it easier for teachers to arrange their classrooms in an optimal way, depending on the types of learning activities they have planned.  Furniture that accommodates wiggling helps kinesthetic learners, like me, to feel comfortable and focus our attention without disrupting the class.


Learning environments need to be multifunctional.  We like to design for an evolution of programmatic needs, for growth, and for optimum space flexibility.  Flexible spaces allow a variety of activities, can change their use over time, adapt to user needs, and allow schools to maximize teaching space.  Openable glass walls and movable acoustic partitions, mobile whiteboards and room dividers, and movable furniture allow classrooms to change shape and size to better accommodate different learning activities.  


Students require spaces that not only support small group interaction and collaborative work, but also promote a culture that supports socialization opportunities.  This increases student engagement and sense of ownership - flexible, changeable spaces for students to congregate; lots of area to display student work; and places that students can operate, like student stores – these all provide students with opportunities  for engagement, to improvise and take chances, and to apply their knowledge and skills, all with a safety net underneath.  The integration of technology in these spaces is very important, since students rely heavily on technology to access information, to create, and communicate.