How to: design a greenhouse

Published 17 June 2021

Experiment with making miniature architectural models using just toothpicks and plasticine.

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    A gift of peas and sticks

    Follow these these simple instructions and have a go at designing your own greenhouse!

    For this exercise we’ve taken inspiration from German educator Friedrich Froebel, who in 1840 invented a series of open-ended educational toys he called ‘gifts’ that went on to inspire artists and architects alike.

    For example, Buckminster Fuller, who pioneered the geodesic dome (a strong, shell structure made up of triangles), is known to have first made his discovery at Kindergarten while playing with a set of dried peas and sticks. Today you can see the influence of Froebelian ‘nodes’ and ‘rods’ in Sir Nicholas Grimshaw PPRA’s Eden Project and Norman Foster RA’s Lunar Habitation project.

    • What you need

      • Plasticine or sticky tack

      • Toothpicks

      • Paper

      • Pen

      • Succulent or other prop (optional)

    • Step 1

      Step 1

      Between your fingers, roll some Plasticine into tiny, pea-sized balls. These will be the nodes that connect the toothpicks.

    • Step 2

      Step 2

      To connect the toothpicks — simply push them into the Plasticine and squeeze each ball to ensure they have adhered successfully.

      Now have a go at experimenting to see what shapes you can make with straight lines!

    • Step 3

      Step 3

      What kind of structure would you like to create?

      Make two lists and write down (a) what is it’s purpose might be and (b) what features it would ideally have. This will help you to consider what form your structures might take.

    • Step 4

      Step 4

      Now that you know what’s possible and what you’re aiming for — sketch out some quick designs.

      Try not to include lots of detail as your model is likely to take it’s own shape and form. It might be that you go back to the drawing board once you’ve experimented some more.

    • Step 5

      Step 5

      Get experimenting!

      Have a go at making a multiple models, exploring different shapes and forms.

    • Step 6

      Step 6

      Once happy with your final designs, play around with placing your models in different environments - perhaps somewhere around your home or against a white backdrop!

    • Finally, get creative with props

      …and bring your models to life!

      Whatever you do, share your creations with us @royalacademyarts on Instagram and @royalacademy on Twitter using the hashtag #FamilyHowTo!

      Step 7
    • Sculpture workshop for families

      Families at the RA

      Whether it’s a free drop-in workshop or one of our fun and engaging Art Detective trails, the RA is brimming with colourful paintings and sculptures that are waiting to be explored. Everyone is welcome at the RA – and kids under 16 go free to all our exhibitions.

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