Don’t tell the eighth-graders at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, Calif., that they can’t do something. They’ll end up proving you wrong. As part of an in-school design and building class called Studio H, this gang of 108 13-year-olds is creating a library for their three-year-old school. X-Space, as the students are calling it, is a project that grew from a question their teacher Ms. Nini (Hallie Chen) posed to them: What do you want from your school? “One of the students said they want to find their inner self. One said they want to understand how microphones work,” Chen said in the project’s Kickstarter video. “Overwhelmingly, they all wanted a place to read, relax, focus, learn and explore.” And where’s a better place to do that than in a library?
The class got together to conceptualize and design every part of the X-Space — from bookmarks to book bags to stamps and, of course, book shelves. That’s where their concept took on a life of its own. The students, inspired by the algebraic concept of solving for X as an unknown, designed what they call STAX, a shelving system made from stacked, wooden X’s. The students’ plan is not just to build an extensive shelving system out of these X’s — which are crafted from 13-ply finished plywood using CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) technology, which was borrowed from Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, whose factory is nearby — but to use these same materials for tables, benches and stools, as well. The students estimate that they’ll need about 250 to 275 STAX for their design, and are raising money to help fund the project. They’re even offering STAX as rewards. For these students, X can be anything. “We designed this thing that not only solves something for us, but can be good for other people, too,” Valeria, a Studio H student, said.
Studio H was first launched in rural Bertie County, NC. In this class, students apply what they’ve learned in their core subjects to design and build “socially transformative” projects. Previously, Studio H students have built a farmers market pavilion, a pop-up park, laser-etched skateboards and more. In the program, the students learn how to shape their environment. They see their ideas come to fruition. And most importantly, they can design and build something special for other kids to enjoy. “The first semester was just skill building,” Emily Pilloton, who founded Studio H, told Fast Co.Exist about Realm Charter School’s project. “Then we asked them, OK, now let’s look around us at our school community and let’s ask what do we need, but also what do we want? What are the things that we feel passionate about and we can physically build?” They wanted a place to explore. “I thought that was really a poignant way to put it,” Pilloton said. “A library is not just a room filled with books.”