Space for Imagination, Creativity, and Innovation

Image by Junyu Wang*

Just over a month ago, Tony DeRose, lead of the Research Group at Pixar Animation Studios, gave an inspiring presentation at Lincoln Center Institute’s Imagination Summit in New York City. Now, Fast Company’s Co.Design website has published an article identifying the physical environment of Pixar as an example for schools to follow.

“We can no longer afford to…design schoolhouses the way we used to if we’re to maintain a competitive edge,” say authors Steven Turckes and Melanie Kahl. “In looking at various exemplary workplaces…we can glean valuable lessons about effective educational approaches and the spaces that support them.”

The layout of Pixar’s studio, for instance, was designed to encourage unplanned encounters between employees, giving them a chance to exchange ideas and start projects outside of a traditional meeting structure. At Google—another organization whose environment prompts imagination—offices are filled with interlocking cardboard boxes called “Bloxes,” which help create spontaneous workspaces that facilitate on-the-spot collaborative thinking. And the centerpiece of design firm IDEO’s Chicago headquarters is an open studio dedicated to interdisciplinary work. “A café/forum area, prototyping workshop, Chicago-gazing roof deck, and community garden” round out the atmosphere at IDEO.

Turckes and Kahl’s article highlights a couple of schools that have arranged their spaces with an eye to fostering imagination, creativity, and innovation. The High Tech High charter schools in Southern California, which specialize in project-based learning, sport “a thoughtful facility design that displays flexibility, ownership, transparency, and originality.” And then there’s the Blue Valley Schools Center for Advanced Professional Studies (BVCAPS), a district-wide program in Kansas that partners with businesses to offer real-world training to high schoolers. BVCAPS’s new building provides students with raw space to use according to their interests and activities.

It is no coincidence that all these high-powered corporations and successful schools design their workspaces to stimulate collaboration, exploration, and play. As the authors write, “It is time to re-imagine and invest in schools and spaces ripe for creativity and cross-pollination.”

For more discussion of the benefits of an open physical environment in the professional world and in education, see LCI’s recent report Findings of the Imagination Conversations: The Lessons of a Two-Year National Initiative (pp. 10-11, 13-14).

*There is a Creative Commons license attached to this image.

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