Designing Community Spaces

By Dana Holden, December 15, 2016

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Design for the Other 90%

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

2 x 70 minutes (you can adapt times as you need)


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s By The People: Designing a Better America exhibition ( explores design innovations that support and improve the living conditions of communities throughout the United States. Inspired by Harlem Hospital Pavilion Façade (, students will think of other creative ways of solving a range of issues in either their own or another community. BACKGROUND: • Research your local area about existing community issues in order to assist and guide students to identify a real issue so that they can fully engage in an authentic and sincere way with the content and their communities. • Ideas and places to get you and your students started: Some examples of Social Innovation by Stanford Graduate School of Business: Background information on Social Innovation:

National Standards

STANDARDS: COMMON CORE CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1-3, 7, 9; W.1,2,8,9; SL.1, 2, 6; L.1, 2, 4, 6 NEW YORK LEARNING STANDARDS English Language Arts Standards 1 and 3 The Arts Standards 3 and 4 Social Studies Standard 4 English Language Arts Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation The Arts Standard 3: Responding to and Analyzing Works of Art Standard 4: Understanding the Cultural Contributions of the Arts Social Studies Standard 4: Economics CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. Range of Writing: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing. Vocabulary Acquisition and Use: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will be able to: • Identify and understand different community needs; • Analyze their place within society and develop skills in empathy, collaboration and leadership; • Design and create an innovative solution that focuses on a community need such as health, clean environment, transport or other topic chosen by teacher


• Cooper Hewitt By The People Exhibition item: Harlem Hospital Pavilion Façade • Computer • Projector


Materials for student prototypes and presentations: Paper, colored paper, pens, colored pencils, scissors, glue, pipe cleaners, garbage bags and any other materials you feel your students need in order to create their designs. Prototypes only represent real materials and do no need to be expensive or the actual material the students would use to make the real product/design.


• Innovation • Design • Empathy • Community • Wider community • Social action • Transport • Clean environment • Health care • Architecture • Mural • Public health • Public space • African diaspora


LESSON 1 1. What is design? Get students to brainstorm what they think design is and why. Is it fashion? Drawing? Architecture? Yes, it is all of these things, but it is also the ability to design an object, experience or solution for an identified problem. This could be designing a chair that an office user can sit in all day and be comfortable, it could be an app that streamlines a user’s lifestyle. Essentially it is user based and user driven. If we think about design in the context of today’s lesson, it is about designing creative solutions for issues in your (or another) community – this could be transport, health care such as the Harlem Hospital Pavilion Façade, environmental issues or another topic chosen by teacher. 2. By The People: Designing A Better America: Consider Cooper Hewitt’s exhibition, By The People: Designing A Better America, in particular the Harlem Hospital Pavilion Façade project. The background is that out of the whole of the United States of America, Harlem had the highest rate of sick people. A creative solution was developed to make their hospitals excellent centers where people could look to and not see sickness. Inside Harlem Hospital were artworks by Works Progress Administration, three of these were transformed with technology to create a one external wall of the hospital which can be seen from the street and from inside the hospital itself. Work began in 2005 and ended in 2012, but people are still learning about this innovative solution to a health problem. 3. Whole Class Discussion: Who were the users identified in this project? Explore how the designer came up with the solution. How did this design service the needs of the community? Why would this design solution help a health problem? Can you think of any other benefits? Did the design only affect people in the hospital? Discuss all aspects as a class. 4. Research: • Community issues: o Choose an issue or range of issues to research that pertain to your school and community context. o Make sure you have a clearly identified user and problem which you are going to address as a designer. o Brainstorm multiple ideas before settling on one to sketch/prototype. 5. Present research and your final idea to the class and discuss. Get feedback and then go back into groups. 6. Design Groups: Use the feedback from the class to refine designs, consider use of appropriate materials, context and so on. LESSON 2 1. Prototyping: Students create a prototype of their design to show the class for feedback. In this process they will get to see what problems they might have with their design, what they haven’t thought of and what is working well that they can keep and potentially extend in the next iteration. 2. Presenting: Present designs and concepts to the class for feedback and testing. Students take notes to refine their ideas in the next stage of prototyping. This may include refining their question or user. 3. Group review and iteration: Review the feedback as a group and how to move the design forward. Students construct their new design or concept and develop and create a new and final presentation for the class. Students need to ensure that they state their user, question and focus on the product or concept. Students can use power point, posters, palm cards, a skit, a speech or any other way that you choose to work with your class for assessment. Time limit is at your discretion for assessment purposes. 4. Presentation (Assessment): Students present their design work to the class. 5. Feedback: Students receive feedback from teacher and the class. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What issues do we face as a school community? What issues do we face as a wider community? What current social innovations exist to help communities? How can we as citizens of our city/town work to create a solution for our own community? How can we adapt/modify/improve our design to be practical for real world use?


Students will demonstrate the ability to: • Articulate a community issue and work through the problem to create a solution. • Participate in whole class and small group discussions to solve a problem. • Work independently. • Present their idea/design to their peers.

Enrichment Extension Activities

You could take this task further by developing prototypes further and connecting with community organizations to receive feedback on ideas. This task could be done for a range of community issues.

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