Lesson: Introduction to "A Place of My Own"

Authors: Natalie Shaheen, Peter Anderson 

Class Size 

  • Originally taught to groups of 10 students at a time but could easily be scaled. The limiting factor would be how much one-on-one direction students need while using the materials during the prototyping portion. 

Lesson Structure 

120 minutes 

  • Introduction to architectural design thinking: 30 minutes 
  • Project description, and familiarization: 20 minutes 
  • Ideation, prototyping, and inspiration: 70 minutes 


Students will be able to: 

  • Describe their “place of my own,” specifically what activities they might do in the spaces, how they want to feel in the space, what self-imposed criteria (e.g., quiet) and constraints (e.g., no carpet) their space needs to comply with, and a general sense of the design of the space. 
  • Describe the project deliverables and the instructor-imposed criteria and constraints. 

Prerequisite Knowledge and Skills 

  • Familiarity with the terms criteria and constraint as they are used in everyday language, not necessarily in the way engineers use the terms.  
  • Experience using a variety of craft materials and tools will be helpful but is not essential. 
  • Basic drawing skills with Sensational BlackBoard Intro to Drawing may be helpful but is not required. 


  • Braille, large print, and accessible electronic documents and writing tools 
  • Verbal description of available materials 
  • Knowledgeable instructors who can model nonvisual techniques for using craft materials and tools 
  • Braille labels and braille writers 


  • Handout: Project Description and Design Brief (BRF)
  • Handout: Project Description and Design Brief (Word)
  • Handout: Prototyping Ideation (BRF)
  • Handout: Prototyping Ideation (Word)
  • Speaker, wireless, to connect to computer - 1 
  • Sensational BlackBoard - 1 per student 
  • Student name labels (print and Braille on the same label) - 1 per student 
  • Fabric samples, ~3” x 3”, 6 types, such as flannel, satin, muslin, velour, etc. - 1 set per 3-4 students 
  • Pen 0.5 mm - 1 per 
  • Pen 0.9 mm - 1 per student 
  • Braille ruler - 1 per student  
  • T-square notched on one side, 1” intervals - 1 per student 
  • Construction foam, cut to 10” x 13” - 1 square per student 
  • Scissors, adult - 1 per student 
  • Toilet paper tubes - 2 per student 
  • Paper cutter (non-guillotine style) - 5 
  • Toothpicks, round - 1 box 
  • Copy paper - 100 sheets 
  • Cardstock - 50 sheets 
  • Lightweight chipboard, 18” x 24” sheets - 120 (or cut up cereal boxes, cut along folded seams, sort pieces roughly by size) 
  • Craft foam, 8.5” x 11” - 1 piece per student 
  • Glue dots - 1 roll per 2 students 
  • Scotch tape, on dispenser - 1 roll per 2 students 
  • Masking tape, on roll - 1 roll per 2 students 
  • Craft sticks - 200 
  • Stapler - 6 
  • Sculpy clay, individual package - 2 per 3 students 
  • Sculpy clay conditioning machine - 1 
  • Tray, cafeteria – 18 

Note: Refer to Accessible Lab Equipment & Instructional Materials for additional information regarding specialized tools/materials. 


  1. Prepare a materials zone for all the building materials. Each material should be in its own tray with similar materials close to one another so that materials are easy to find. 
  2. Sort and place fabric samples on trays. 
  3. Cut the construction foam to 10” x 13”. 
  4. Setup wireless speaker and cue the Alicia Keys' song A Place of My Own



  1. A Place of My Own. 
  2. Explain the Project. 
    • Tell. “For this project you will design a place of your own; an imaginary building where you could do whatever you want. You’ll imagine it and all the features it should have, plan and draft it as an engineer, and build a model of it.” 
  3. Designing Buildings. 
    • Tell. “When designing buildings and spaces engineers and architects are very intentional. They spend a lot of time thinking about what they want the space to feel like and about what the building needs to be able to do in order to be successful (e.g., remain standing under certain weather conditions, serve the intended purpose). Before we jump into the engineering side of designing and constructing a building, we are first going to think about our buildings the way that architects do.” 
  4. Intentions. 
    • Tell. “Buildings can make us feel different ways based on how they arrange spaces, the materials they use, and other aesthetic characteristics. Buildings that succeed in their aim of evoking a certain feeling become treasured monuments and escape the bulldozer. Architects design with intentions in mind.” 
  5. Fabric Exploration. 
    • Tell. “To begin to think about the way that certain material things evoke emotions we are going to explore some different materials. I’m passing out a collection of 6 fabric samples to each group. For each fabric swatch, share in your small groups the first thing that comes to mind when you touch the fabric or how the material makes you feel.” 
    • Do. Direct student groups to explore fabrics and discuss for 5 mins. 
  6. Associations. 
    • Tell. “The associations that you all just made, while occasionally silly, are nonetheless very real. Architects design with these and similar associations in mind. Take a moment to think to yourself about your favorite space or building. Describe it. How did it make you feel? Why did it evoke that feeling? How did it do that? What were the qualities of the materials? Which parts of the space reinforced the feeling?” 
    • Do. Give students 2-3 minutes to think to themselves. Have students share in small groups. Ask 1 student from each group to share a location from the conversation. Reinforce the physical parts of the structure that reinforce feelings. 
  7. Different PMO’s. 
    • Tell. “Lots of people have places of their own; workshops, writing shacks, art or dance studios, garages, entertainment caves, creation theatres, YouTube sets, gyms of many types, indoor skate ramps, climbing walls, sewing shacks, practice spaces, personal retreats, or hideouts, lots of other things.” 
  8. Reflection. 
    • Tell. “Take a few minutes and think about what sort of place of your own you would like to make. How would you spend your time in this space? What would you be doing?” 
    • Do. Give students 3 minutes to think independently. 
  9. Ideation Handout. 
    • Tell. “If we’re going to take the time to design and build a space of our own, in which we can do whatever we want to do we ought to think about the emotions we want the space to evoke or the way we want the space to make us feel; just like architects do. To get you to think more deeply about your place, answer the architectural ideation questions on the handout, which include: how should your space feel; how do you feel when you do the activities you plan to do in the space?”  
    • Do. Pass around the Prototyping Ideation handout to each student and tell them where they can find the electronic version. Give students 5 minutes to think independently and 5 minutes to share in small groups. Encourage students to document their ideas on the handout. 

Introduction to the Project 

  1. Introduction. 
    • Tell. “Now we are going to take your idea of what you would like to do and build a space around that. At the end you will have all the detailed plans and a model for making such a place.” 
    • Do. Pass out the Project Description and Design Brief handout and explain where students can find the electronic version. 
  2. Design Brief Handout. 
    • Do. Explain the project goals and deliverables. Go through each deliverable listed on the handout. 
    • Note: This discussion is based on what students have learned in Engineering 101. If students have not had this lesson yet, give a brief definition of criteria and constraint. 
    • Ask. “Can anyone tell me what a criteria is?” A positive statement of what your space should do.  
    • Teach. Review the criteria for the project, which are listed on the handout.  
    • Ask. Can anyone tell me what a constraint is? A limitation on how your space can be.  
    • Teach. Review the constraints for the project, which are listed on the handout. 
    • Tell. “Some things that you won’t have to worry about in this project are plumbing, electrical wiring, and insulation. Builders typically build with these in mind and generate entire sets of plans accommodating them. Since we have a limited time for this project, we won’t worry about all these details.” 
  3. Touch Base. 
    • Ask. “What questions do you have about the project?”  
    • Do. Answer questions referring back to the information on the handout where possible. 

Ideation, Prototyping, & Inspiration: 70 minutes 

  1. Introduction. 
    • Tell. “Now that you have had a little time to think about your space in the abstract, it is time to play with the ideas in the real world. We are going to spend the next hour or so ideating and prototyping using more concrete methods. You might choose to make a rough sketch of your space or build a very rough conceptual model of your space using arts-and-crafts materials. The focus of this activity is to get your ideas out and to refine them. The focus is not perfection or precision.” 
  2. Review Materials. 
    • Do. Identify the available materials and their locations for students. For example, you might say something like “For this activity the materials available from left to right as you look at the table: scissors, toilet paper tubes, Sculpy clay, paper cutter, toothpicks, copy paper, cardstock, lightweight chipboard (or cut up cereal boxes), craft foam, glue dots, scotch tape, masking tape, craft sticks.” 
  3. Work time.  
    • Do. While students work, circulate through the room. Help students think through the design criteria that their building will need. Model ways of working with materials as needed (e.g., if students aren’t sure how to attach one material to another to create a wall, you could offer some ideas). Only interfere with a student’s process if a design idea grossly disregards one of the constraints. As needed, teach students how to use the tools safely and where to get the materials if they need them.  
  4. Other work to do.  
    • Students Do. When students have completed the ideation process, get them started on creating their inspiration document (described in PMO handout) and updating their design brief with the criteria and constraints that they have identified for their unique space (e.g., no carpet, 13-ft ceilings, etc.). 
  5. Cleanup.  
    • Students Do. As students finish, direct them to cleanup by labeling their model with their name, putting it on a table, returning any tools or unused materials, and then disposing of any scraps.  
  6. Check for progress.  
    • Do. Poll the students briefly by a shout of “aye.” “Who has a clear idea of what they are going to build? Who has a rough draft model?” 

Note: If any time remains, remind students of the deliverables they will work on throughout the project. 

Standards Alignment 

NGSS Standards Alignment:

  • SEP 2 - Developing and using models 
  • CCC 6 - Structure and Function 
  • HS-ETS1-3 

CCSS Standards Alignment:

  • CC.9-10.R.ST.4, CC.9-10.R.ST.6, CC.9-10.R.ST.7, CC.11-12.R.ST.4, CC.11-12.R.ST.6, CC.11-12.R.ST.7, CC.9-12.G.MG.1 

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