Lesson: New Museum Design Activity

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grade)
  • Subject Area: Architecture, design, scale
  • SANAA DiagramSANAA Diagram
  • SANAA New Museum ModelsSANAA New Museum Models
  • SANAA ModelsSANAA Models
  • SANAA DiagramSANAA Diagram
  • SANAA DiagramSANAA Diagram
  • SANAA, New Museum building. Photography by Dean Kaufman.SANAA, New Museum building. Photography by Dean Kaufman.


The museum was conceived as a center for exhibitions, information, and documentation about living artists whose work did not yet have wide public exposure or critical acceptance. At its inception, the Museum lay somewhere between a grassroots alternative space and a major museum devoted to proven historical values. The deliberate paradox was embodied in the name “New Museum”. Students will redesign the 5th floor of the Education Center at the New Museum.


• Students will use observational and interpretive skills related to 2D and 3D spaces.
• Students will create models that relate to the use of space and to proportional elements.


Vernacular architecture is concerned with domestic or functional space using a traditional method of construction that uses locally available materials.
Elevation is a drawing of the front, side, or back of a building, showing a vertical view of a building.
Floor plan is a drawing of one level of a building/structure, showing the relationship of rooms and physical elements. Plans include detail features of a floor including: walls, windows, doors, heating, water, and lighting.
Scale is a standard system of measuring that corresponds to proportions of lengths. In architecture models are scaled down proportionally so that 1:1 scale means that 1 length is equal to 1 length, 1:2 means that 1 length is equal to half, and 1:10 means that 1 length is equal to one tenth.


Pre-cut cardboard to a pre-determined height of walls
Floor plan worksheet
Scale rulers
Image hyper linked below
Homework materials

Lesson Strategy

1. Before class, students will take a neighborhood walk and gather materials either bought or found locally around the Bowery such as plastic packing materials, restaurant supplies, and cardboard.

2. Read and discuss the introduction from “Past, Present, Future,” the introduction to Shift SANAA and the New Museum.
• Ask students to define the mission of the New Museum and how the institution wants to be represented through the building.
• Review the New Museum’s design requests: made of vernacular/low-cost materials, scrappy/stylish design that reflects the artistic mission of the institution.
• Review materials available in the Bowery.
• Brainstorm a list of associations students have to the look the museum wants to project.

3. Present and explain background material on alternative space, vernacular and alternative architecture.

70’s Alternative Spaces
• In 1971 Alanna Heiss founded PS 1 as part of an effort to recuperate abandoned and unused spaces in New York City for exhibition and performance venues. This one hundred room exhibition space was a former public school, hence the name PS 1.
• Every year PS 1 presents experimental architecture in their courtyard through an event called, Warm Up.
• 5 Points or the Institute for Higher Burnin is an open air space dedicated to graffiti in Long Island City, Queens.
• Initiated by Gordon Matta-Clark, Food was a restaurant in Soho staffed and run by artists. The restaurant became a frequented meeting place for many artists.

Vernacular Architecture

70’s Alternative Architecture
• Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion Car and Dome and the Dymaxion House
Drop City
Andrea Zittel
Michael Rakowitz
• Archigram Hotel and Kunsthaus Graz

4. Redesign the New Museum’s Educational Center located on the fifth floor of the new building. Students will design based on the specific needs and function of the space.
• Office space for a staff of 30
• 2 Bathrooms
• Library: quiet space with book shelving.
• Studio Classroom: large enough to contain 30 people, provide storage and large worktables that can be easily cleaned.
• Exhibition space: enough wall space that can also change for particular exhibitions.
• Elevator shafts

5. Study the current floor plan of the Educational Center and identity features that cannot be changed (elevator, audio/video storage, window). Discuss the pros and cons of the current design of quiet office spaces for employees with natural sunlight and a classroom that can double as a working studio for students. Use blank floor plan worksheet and have students begin initial planning. Use floor plan to teach scale.

6. Use pre-cut cardboard, glue, and gathered materials to construct a 3D model of the space using a 1:8 scale.
• Awareness of spatial relationships and balance
• Unity through color, shape, pattern, and materials
• A balance of two- and three-dimensional objects

Additional Resources

“Past, Present, Future” introduction to Shift SANAA and the New Museum catalog
Edited by Joseph Grima, Lisa Phillips, and Karen Wong
Photographs by Dean Kaufman
Grima and Wong Shift: SANAA and the New Museum [New Museum Catalogue]
SANAA: Recent Projects Aedes 2000
Florian Idenburg on audioguide
SANAA Gallery Guide and wall text

Lesson Plan: New Museum Design Activity