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Building our own classroom: Studio H at REALM Charter School's video poster

We believe in our school. We need classroom space. So we're designing and building it ourselves. Read more

Berkeley, CA Design
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pledged of $15,000 goal
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This project was successfully funded on December 30, 2012.

We believe in our school. We need classroom space. So we're designing and building it ourselves.

Berkeley, CA Design
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About this project

We are Studio H at REALM Charter School in Berkeley, California: One hands-on class, two teachers who know how to design and build, and twenty eager 10th-grade students who want to make our school and community a better place.

Because our first responsibility is to the REALM school community, our current Studio H cohort has proposed, designed, and will build an 800-square-foot classroom space. In direct response to the needs of our facilities-constrained charter school, our class will put our heads, hands, hammers, welders, saws, and laser cutter to use to build a solution for our school ourselves. The classroom we build will serve our own student community as instructional space, as well as flexible space for dining, congregating, meetings, and after-school activities.

Studio H is a different kind of classroom: we seek to grow the creativity, critical thinking, citizenship, and capital necessary to both propel young people into productive futures, and to provide communities with the infrastructure and vision necessary to thrive. Within the structure of REALM, a public charter school, our students apply core subject learning to design and build contextually responsive and socially transformative public architecture projects. Using everything from X-acto blades to chop saws and digital fabrication tools, Studio H gives students a voice through making, and makes ideas real for collective benefit.


Project Details and Budget:

Objective: Build a beautiful, functional, inspiring classroom space for use by our fellow high school students at REALM Charter School. Ensure that the structure complies with all codes and school requirements, and create an engaging indoor/outdoor space that students and staff want to own and occupy.

Process and timeframe: Research and architectural precedent studies (October 1 - November 15, 2012), Design concept, prototyping, and development (November 15 - January 31, 2013), Construction (December 1, 2012 - April, 2013).

Design concept: Our current design concept uses three free-standing shipping containers as the structural core for a 20x40-foot rectangular space. The containers are contextually appropriate, coming from the local shipping industry at the Port of Oakland, as well as providing a cost-effective structural alternative to a full concrete foundation. The three containers are spaced evenly, their interior-facing sides removed to create a single open space. Floor decking will span across all three containers. An aesthetically and functionally optimal roof structure will protect the classroom from the elements while allowing for natural light and ventilation, as the classroom will not be wired for electricity. The interior space will include furniture and fixtures designed and built by students, in material allegiance to the structural systems of the roof trusses. The steel removed from the sides of the containers will be repurposed as sliding doors on tracks along the front side of the classroom, facing high-traffic University Avenue as a "REALM" billboard. Low-water landscaping will connect the interior to the exterior, encouraging indoor/outdoor usage of the flexible space.

Student teams: Roof truss and external structure, Decking, Fixtures and furniture, Graphics, Landscape.

What we need funding for: $15,000 in funding is required for shipping containers ($7000), structural and interior lumber ($4000), metal/welding and fabrication consumables ($1500), hardware and tool maintenance ($1000), roofing materials ($500), landscaping ($500), and miscellaneous paint, finishing, etc ($500). Your support will go directly to all material costs for the classroom's construction.


10 things to know about Studio H:

1) This ain't your daddy's (or momma's) shop class. We call it shop class with purpose. Instead of birdhouses for our moms for Christmas, we seek to build architectural-scale projects that we design ourselves, that carry with them long-lasting social benefit. Our tagline says it all: Design. Build. Transform.

2) We cut things with saws... and lasers. We weld, we join, we tinker. In Studio H, the hand and mind are an uneatable team. We use the lowest-tech and the highest-tech, often in the same day. From hand-cut chipboard models to laser-cut cardboard pieces, we teach an arsenal of tools for students to pull from to make their projects real.

3) We build confidence and leadership as nuts and bolts. Aside from the hard skills, leadership, confidence, teamwork, and chutzpah are integral life skills our students develop through our building projects.

4) We are a self-sustaining 501c3. Studio H is the core initiative of our nonprofit design agency, Project H. While we receive generous overhead support from REALM Charter School, all our project costs are funded through Project H, giving us both autonomy and the power of great collaboration. Studio H is a school class, just like our students' math and science classes, but comes with the additional support of our 501c3 nonprofit status and resources.

5) We've been around the block. Studio H's instructors are Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller, both trained as architects. Matthew has built schools and houses around the world, while Emily founded Project H, wrote a book, fundraises, and speaks about humanitarian design worldwide. Prior to our station at REALM, Studio H was based in Bertie County, NC, where we built a 2000-square-foot farmers market with our students.

6) We believe in the raw brilliance of youth. REALM (Revolutionary Education and Learning Movement) Charter School is our partner and kindred spirit in this regard. It's not just a school, it's a movement. We believe that youth are more brilliant than we can ever imagine. We hope Studio H can be a pathway to unearth and multiply that brilliance.

7) We can teach and learn anything through design. Through one building project, we can learn mathematical and scientific concepts, structures and physics, the social science and history of the context in which the building sits, economics, politics, and more. Our design projects are interdisciplinary and holistic, reinforcing core subject learning.

8) Our classroom is a mess. A beautiful mess, we call it. Our teaching space is one part studio, one part shop. Drafting tables are covered in clay, or cardboard, or mud, or sawdust. We encourage experimentation, crazy ideas, and creative chaos.

9) We draw from our diversity. Design is a form of voice. Our students come from diverse backgrounds, many are English Language Learners, many come from difficult home lives and bear those burdens within the classroom. All come to school to learn. Studio H is an outlet and a safe space to express voice through making and to tell our stories in visual and compelling media.

10) We believe anything is possible. We dream a lot, but we also get things done. We have yet to take on a project that was not completed within the public sphere. We stop at nothing. We keep promises to each other and our communities. We believe that everything is possible together.


About REALM Charter School:

The mission of REALM Charter School is to cultivate resiliency, develop critical thinking skills, advance knowledge through rigorous studies, and equip students to serve our communities and the world in the 21st century. Realm Charter School will serve diverse urban students in grades 6-12 using a student-centered model that features project-based learning, an emphasis on technology, research and action on concerns in the community and activities that develop emotional resiliency. REALM opened its doors in August 2011, and is currently in its second academic year of operations.


Studio H's track record and media coverage:

Studio H is an academic design/build high school program based at REALM Charter School in Berkeley, CA. Prior to our operation at REALM, Studio H was based in rural Bertie County, North Carolina. In Bertie, our students designed and built three public chicken coops, a 200-square-foot farmers market for their hometown (below), and two roadside farmstands.

Photo: Brad Feinknopf 2011

To get an idea of our educational sensibilities and capabilities, view our media coverage in The New York Times, Architectural Record, on NPR's The Story, the TED stage and The Colbert Report, and in our Studio H Bertie County promo video below.

Risks and challenges

Our challenges:

1) Time: We hope to have our classroom completed in time for Spring semester, at the end of January 2013. Given the constraints of the school day (and early sunset!), our work hours are limited.

2) Maintenance: Once the structure is completed, we will need to work with the school and district administration to maintain the building. Our design will be optimized to minimize maintenance.

3) Safety and workflow: We operate a fully functional construction site. With over a dozen teenagers as construction workers on site, we must always remain aware of safety and workflow strategies to keep everyone secure and productive.

Our assets to address these challenges:

1) Supportive administration: We are lucky to have the full support of REALM's school administration in order to facilitate communication with the district, negotiate work hours and material procurement, etc.

2) After-school and weekend hours: We have expanded our working hours to include a for-credit 6th period after school and weekend hours in order to hit our target completion date.

3) Tools and in-kind donations: We have a full working wood and metal shop, and state-of-the-art laser cutter generously donated to us by a locally based corporation. Our shop set-up is optimized for high productivity.

4) Experience and motivation: Our experience on construction sites with students is vast, and our students' motivation remains high. We are all working towards the end goal of seeing the building complete and occupied by our classmates and colleagues.

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  • You selected
    Pledge $10 or more

    55 backers

    We'll include your name and company/website on our Donors and Supporters page on our Studio H website.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $25 or more

    56 backers

    Get your own "Design. Build. Transform." sticker to display proudly. Made from burly bumper-sticker-quality material, this 1.5" x 7" black and white sticker will look great on your laptop or bike frame.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $50 or more

    52 backers

    We'll send you a "Studio H paperweight" - a piece of wood or metal scrap from our construction site, with our slogan, "Design. Build. Transform" on it.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $100 or more

    14 backers

    Receive a framed 4x6 print of the finished, photographed classroom with a hand-written thank you from one of our students.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $200 or more

    13 backers Limited (12 left of 25)

    Sketch in Studio H style! We'll send you a custom-made laser-cut "Design / Build / Transform" sketchbook made by our students.

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $500 or more

    3 backers Limited (7 left of 10)

    You will receive everything above (sticker, "paperweight," framed photo, sketchbook), AND a limited edition laser-cut 6-word manifesto poster written by one of our amazing students. See photos of them here:

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $1,000 or more

    2 backers Limited (8 left of 10)

    Everything above (sticker, "paperweight," framed photo, sketchbook, laser-cut poster), AND a signed copy of Project H founder Emily Pilloton's book "Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People," AND a REALM Charter School t-shirt (note: they are awesome).

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world

Funding period

- (30 days)