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Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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« Designing Sequential & Scaffolded Studio Experiences to Deepen Learning and Optimize Technical Skill Acquisition | Main | FOUNDATION PROJECT #3: Paper Model Making »

March 09, 2020

FOUNDATION PROJECT #2: Nine-Square Grid Project: Developing Space and Structure

By Stephanie Silverman

The following post is a continuation of the March Monthly Mentor series "Designing Sequential & Scaffolded Studio Experiences to Deepen Learning and Optimize Technical Skill Acquisition" which feature a series of thematically connected lessons from my high school Architectural Design course. Each post includes an overview of lessons beginning with introductory exercises in form and design, through to the finished culminating project, an original scaled architectural model.

This assignment is based on “The Nine-Square Grid Problem”, which is a common assignment taught to foundation architecture students created by John Hejduk in 1954, but the difference is that it requires students to use one of the descriptors from the gestalt square project to create a three-dimensional spatial investigation. The descriptor should function as the conceptual touchstone and drive each design decision. With a very limited amount of material and very specific constraints, students are asked to create a structure that communicates their object in three dimensions.


  1. Choose one of the words from assignment #1 (Gestalt Square Compositions)
  2. Working along the orientation grid lines of your base, create a 3D spatial investigation of your selected 2D design comprised only of a combination of walls/partitions and columns/beams.

Think about separating, unifying, overlapping, enclosing and organizing space. As you move walls and beams around to organize your space, try to think about the space you are moving as well as the solid objects. Try to think about manipulating space rather than modeling form.

Materials/Teacher Prep:

14 ply chipboard, 2 sheets per student, at 28'' × 44''

Hot Glue Guns & Hot Glue Sticks (lots of hot glue sticks)

Masking tape to serve as temporary adhesive for planning designs and securing vertical elements when gluing

Self-healing cutting mats

Exact-o blades (shafts and replacement blades, protective caps preferred)

Clear plastic triangles and rulers to use as straight edge references


Mechanical pencils

Teacher Prep: Draw out a square grid consisting of three rows of three 6” x 6” squares, forming a “nine square grid.” Reference off of the upper left corner of your chipboard sheet, oriented horizontally. You will have an extra amount of space around the grid (4” at the bottom and 16” on the right side). You can decide if you would like for the students to have the opportunity to use this extra material (in addition to their second sheet of 28” x 44” chipboard, or just cut it off and reuse for a different project at a later time.


- All chipboard “bases” must include a scaled 9 Square (6 x 6) grid duplicated according to example, in pencil.

- You may only use vertical walls and beams, none of which may exceed 6” in height

- You may work diagonally, as long as your spatial organization still adheres to the grid

- Your partitions may exceed 6” in length, or be shorter in length (half partitions or walls).

You may only use one additional 28” × 44'' sheet of 14 ply chipboard to make your 3D elements. You do not need to use all of the material in the 28” x 44” material sheet.

Craft/High Quality Technical Execution is very important for this project. Since we will be using hot glue, please make sure to practice before using your “real pieces,” since hot glue can look very sloppy.

Completed Student Solutions:

Blog2_1Austin Edge, 11th Grade. Descriptor: “Order,” Design for a Contemporary Art Wing at the Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles CA

Blog2_2Malix Maddox, 12th grade. Descriptor: “Order,” Museum/Garden concept.

*Notice how both students' work featured above use the same descriptor for their design with very different formal qualities and outcomes.

Check back on Monday, March 16 for the third lesson in this curricular unit.

- SS


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