Art Classroom Design


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A quick reference for Architects, School Administrators, and Art Teachers

Marvin Bartel © 2007 (12/09 update) author bio link

An ideal art room has some attributes that are the opposite of those needed in standard classroom. It can be expensive and less than ethical to construct inappropriate and unsafe facilities for learning in visual art.

I write this as an art teacher, designer, artist, and architectural design consultant. This checklist for school artroom design gives a minimum of features needed for art instruction.  If you are an art teacher, a new facility is a "chance in a lifetime" to get the kind of teaching space you have always dreamed of.  If you are an architect or an administrator, you can take pride in providing the best possible facilities for instruction.

COST -- Good design can be less expensive to construct, and is certainly more efficient over the life of the building. A studio art classroom has unique learning needs and safety considerations. 

Design lots of easy to use display space with white or neutral tack board. Some types of cabinet doors can also be used for display space. Have some display walls in the room so a class can put up all their work and discuss it. Provide more space in the hall for public view. An art class that does not display and discuss their own work is missing at least half of the potential art learning. Nearby hallway display surfaces provide a convenient way to share work with other students, teachers, and visitors to the school.

Plan for locked cases backing to the art room and facing the public hallway. Also, plan secure display cases for both flat and sculptural work near the main entrance and main office of the school. Few things motivate learning in the arts as much as appropriate recognition of hard work, achievement, and ability. Music students have concerts, and school athletes are featured in the local newspaper. Art students are also motivated by recognition of their hard work and successes.

In an art classroom every inch of wall space is educationally valuable. Often electrical and mechanical drawings are not specific enough when locating switches, fire alarms, heat registers, thermostats, and other stuff that interferes with the display space in an art room.  Many workers who install these things tend to place them too far into the center of a wall area that would otherwise be available to display artwork or educational material. Plans need to include specific placement specifications and notes so that contractors can be held accountable for ruining display spaces with thoughtless placement of fixtures, switches, and so on. 

Include lots of storage and drying racks.  An art room is a production facility with many different groups of students using the same space. Without storage for supplies and for in-process projects, the room soon becomes clogged with individual projects and nothing more can happen. Learning is seriously curtailed when lesson plans are limited because there is no place to put he work from session to session.  Include some deep and wide drawer type shelving with suspension hardware for large flat paper and display posters.  Consider a few lockable spaces for "teacher only" access for materials and equipment that may be too hazardous or valuable to use without supervision or special instruction.

Perimeter cabinets are convenient, but some wall space is also needed for windows and for display. Consider shelving in an adjacent room designed as low cost warehouse quality space. Provide a glass wall and/or video cameras to make it easy for the teacher to visually supervise students while they retrieve and stash their work.

Typical classrooms have lighting that is too general and uniform. Shading and shadows are not visible enough to learn drawing from observation and good sculptural modeling.  A visual art learning studio needs direct lighting options and zoned lighting options that can be used when needed.  

Digital projectors produce the best rendition when the screen does not get any ambient light. When projecting verbal information the quality of the dark tones may not matter much. However, in an art class the projector is often used to learn about visual art and art history. Many classrooms cannot be made dark enough to see the details and textures within the dark tones of paintings and photographs when they are projected. Blinds that are absolutely opaque can be used to optimize the projected images. Consider display-boards that slide or fold like shutters to cover windows instead of expensive curtains or high maintenance blinds. Most blinds do a poor job of blocking sunlight well enough.

In K-12 classroom situations, reasonable classroom management may preclude making a room totally dark as one might in a university setting. Therefore, place the screen on the same wall as the windows so that no window light falls directly on the screen. The blinds can be adjusted to allow a reasonable amount of light into the classroom without lighting the screen directly. If the room has no windows, or if the room is used in the evening, provide a small amount of dimmable lighting in the room, but aim or shield this lighting so it cannot shine directly on the projection screen.

If the screen cannot be located on the same wall as the windows, it is necessary to have both very opaque window covering as well as dimmable room lighting that is shielded so that no direct light hits the screen surface. Keep in mind that modern motor operated retractable screens may be placed directly in front of cabinets, display boards, and directly in front of windows to maximize the quality of projected images.


Art classrooms need power for projectors, computers, and charging units for camera batteries. Additionally, many art processes make use of various appliances and equipment such as pencil sharpeners, potters wheels, hot glue guns, paper-making equipment, pug mills, drilling/grinding/finishing tools, enameling kilns, warmers for encaustic, fans, electric irons, dry mounting equipment, spray booths, mixers, blenders, and microwaves.  

Require four outlets per box every six feet or less along the perimeter.  Island worktables need power as well.  If worktables are movable, consider ceiling outlet boxes that allow for drop cords or slim pre-wired power posts mounted on the end of worktables to power strips on the sides under the top of worktables. Avoid interfering with the work surface.

Of all the rooms in a school, the art room needs to be located so it has windows with the best possible view for inspiration and for learning.  Art rooms need windows for observation drawing and for teaching art concepts about space, depth, form, and perspective.  If a view is impossible, insist on windows for light and ventilation.  No other school subject or office space is as dependent on windows and good viewscapes as the art room.

Cleanup time is not art learning time, but it has to be done. Good design saves time. Bad design results in lots of standing around and discipline problems. Ask for sinks that are in a peninsula with plenty of room for people around them and for traffic flow.  Never locate sinks in a corner where they create congestion. Space sinks as far apart from each other as possible so more people can get at them.  Get at least two sinks with two completely separate drain systems in every room.  When one clogs, the other should work.  If I am only allowed one sink, I try for a big double sink and two faucets and two drains. 

I have seen new schools that take the bad air from the kiln room and blow it into the rest of the rooms in the school with the heating system.  One of the elementary schools in our community had an air intake that sucked in diesel fumes from the school buses. People in the building got sick. It was moved.

Many materials that were previously thought to be harmless, have been found to harmful. Dust in an art studio contains chemicals. Spraying of many art materials, fixatives, glazes, and so on, require a appropriate exhaust booths with a dedicated exhaust fan that keeps all fumes away from the user. Clay mixing, glaze mixing, soldering, photography chemicals, printmaking chemicals, and some paint thinners may also require dust or fume removal. If toxins cannot be totally removed at the source, fresh air needs to be supplied to the faces of the students while working. Consider, power, noise, and energy consumption when designing ventilation. In extreme climates, air-to-air heat exchangers may be indicated to save energy.

Clay is an excellent, plentiful, traditional, and inexpensive art material.  Many clays and glaze ingredients contain air pollutants when fired.  Electric kilns need good ventilation to remove toxins from volatile clay impurities and glaze ingredients.  Place kilns in separate rooms -- not in the classroom.  Masonry walled kiln rooms allow kilns to be closer to the wall.  Air from a kiln room needs to go directly outside - never into a common building exhaust or ventilation system. For electric kiln exhaust systems it may be adequate to leave a one-inch gap at the base of the door(s) to the room.  The ventilation system should produce a slight negative pressure in the kiln room so no fumes exit the kiln room into the classroom.

Gas kiln flues are extremely hot and need multi-walled air siphon sleeves* that keep the adjacent roof structure cool during and after firing using convection currents produced by the heat. Never stuff the space between a kiln chimney and a combustible material with insulation.  Insulation does not stop the transfer of heat. It merely slows heat transfer. Given enough time, the heat can reach the kindling point of combustible building materials. Buildings have burned when the latent heat of kiln chimneys have passed from the kiln chimney to the building even though the gap was stuffed with insulation.  I know of a fire that started after the kiln was off because the chimney continued to transfer heat for hours after the kiln was turned off.

Buildings have burned when room exhaust fans sucked air down the kiln flue system.  Kilns with hoods require even larger amounts of room replacement air. Exhaust fans intended to remove heat from kiln rooms can cause building fires because they reverse the chimney flow when there is insufficient air coming into the room. Rooms for gas kilns need a dedicated fail-safe (not closable) air supply for combustion air as well as for any exhaust fan air. Negative pressure in the kiln room of a gas kiln presents a fire hazard. Positive kiln room pressure could pollute the classroom air. Keep a neutral air pressure in the kiln room when gas kilns are used. Follow all kiln manufacturers' recommendations.

NOTE: Art teachers in new buildings are complaining of inadequate ventilation in kiln rooms. In some cases fire alarms in the kiln rooms go off during kiln firing. To work around this they have to fire the kiln with the door open with a fan setting in the door. Obviously, this defeats the air quality advantage of having a kiln room.

Kiln Room Floors: Fireproof kiln room floors are commonly made of smoothly finished concrete. For appearance sake, I sometimes toss concrete colorant on wet concrete floors before final troweling. A penetrating sealer makes cleaning easier so long as it is thin enough and does not compromise the fireproof quality of concrete. If pottery glaze comes through the kiln floor during an accidental overfiring, it could drip at about 2,400 degrees F. If this happens, or if something combustible is accidentally placed too close to the kiln, kicked under the kiln, etc., a building fire may be avoided if the floor of the room is fireproof.

A door that goes directly outdoors from the artroom allows opportunities for pit firing, raku firing, etc. These processes cannot be done indoors. Students love to do their drawing and painting outdoors when the weather permits. Double doors allow easier installation of large pieces of equipment such as a gas kiln. It also makes it easier to bring in pallets of clay for a high school ceramics room.

Art teachers establish the atmosphere of the environment with the displays of art exemplars, learning aides, and their unique collections of objects, mannequins, and taxidermy observed while making artwork.  Art needs to be created and viewed in an atmosphere that does not overly influence the work. Therefore, I stick to neutrals. In most cases, some light grey or off-white is most appropriate. An art room is much like a museum.  It allows for the art itself to serve as the decor. TOP

Use a sealed surface. Never use carpeting. Paint destroys carpet. Clay dust can never be totally removed from carpet. Because vaucuum filters are porous, ordinary vacuums redistribute the most harmful finest silica dust into the air and we unknowingly inhale it.  Even with a special vacuum, when you vacuum carpet you always leave some at the surface where it still is scuffed into the air. The best art rooms have floor drains to facilitate daily floor washing if needed. A vacuum can be used for hard surface floors and counters if the vacuum unit is located outdoors with only the negative preasure (vacuum) piping and hoses located indoors.

In an area where potters wheels are used, provide an area where the floor is slightly lower. A fourth inch drop is adequate while not enough to present a tripping hazard. Slightly slant the floor toward a floor drain. Provide a water hose connection so that students can quickly rinse and squeegee the floor at the end of each class period.  Kiln rooms need fireproof floors and walls in the vicinity of the kilns. Otherwise, walls need sheet metal or cement board shielding that spaced an inch or more from the walls with free airflow entering at the floor level behind the sheet shield.  Never use combustible flooring under kilns.  Follow the kiln manufacturer's installation guide.

Also see:

How to Clean & Work With Less Clay Dust

Hazards in Ceramics

*For a modest cost, the author can supply a shop drawing file for a multi-walled sheet metal sleeve that siphons airflow to keep heat from transferring from a hot kiln chimney to the building's structural members.  The design uses only outside air. The convection airflow is powered by the heat of the chimney. It does not require electricity, and does not allow any inside air to exit, thus saving on air-conditioning and heating costs.  Contact the author for details.



 Updated July 3-2009 

All rights reserved. 2002, 2007- Marvin Bartel

The author is available to consult and to review artroom constructions plans at a very nominal fee. Inquire by email for more information.

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