For over a year, students of all ages have had their educations interrupted and their classroom environments altered. Learning now happens, at least partially, through the window of a computer screen. Even as COVID-19 cases continue to go down, the next generation of classrooms will be a universal focus of 2021 and beyond.

Recipe for a Room 2021 asks student competitors to create a space for learning for children, ages preschool to high school. These spaces can be located anywhere: outdoors, indoors, on the roof of a Manhattan high-rise, in a park, or on the basketball court of a NYCHA property. The location and design of the learning space should serve its community well. Room models should be made entirely out of school supplies.

The competition event and sponsorships will benefit Volunteers of America-Greater New York, one of the oldest and largest human services nonprofits in the metropolitan New York area, with programs including:

  • Operation Backpack®, which strives to ensure all students in shelters throughout the city have a full set of school supplies in time for the first day of school
  • Bronx Early Learning Center, a vibrant, 22-classroom preschool for children between the ages of 2.9 and 5 years who have developmental delays or disabilities


May 19, 9:00 AM
Student application opens 

July 2, 5:00 PM
Student application deadline 

July – August 
Students and mentors convene to design and build their miniature room 

August 19, 6:00 PM
Students and mentors showcase their work during a real-time virtual event, and judges will name the winners

Award Categories

Two winners will be selected:

  • Audience favorite
  • Judges’ favorite

Contest Details

Each student designer will:

  • Be paired with a professional mentor, either a licensed architect or interior designer in NYC
  • Communicate regularly with their mentor, who will serve as a design advisor and collaborator in the creation of a novel place of learning
  • Build a model of a classroom made of school supplies (crayons, pencils, scissors, erasers, push pins, string, etc.)  The room should be a place for interactive learning for children preschool to high school
  • Develop the room’s design concept. Studies and trials are encouraged! This should be a messy, hands-on process, not a computer drawing or digital model
  • Maximum model size:  9” x 9” x 12”.  This assumes the maximum room size is 18’ x 18’ x 24’, built at ½” = 1’-0” scale
  • Students will submit:
    1. One plan view photo of the room (12” x 18” pdf format)
    2. Additional still photos and hand sketches of the room and concept (12″ x 18” pdf format)
    3. A one-minute video, either a time-lapse of the model creation or a fly-through of the final product, which can include music and/or voiceover
  • Present their room via Zoom to a live audience at the Recipe for a Room event on Thursday, August 19, 6:00 – 7:30 PM ET.  During the event, mentors may provide comments, but students will serve as the main presenters.

Student Eligibility and How to Apply

Recipe for a Room seeks nine student designers. This competition is open to all currently enrolled students attending NYC-area architecture and interior design programs at undergraduate and graduate levels.

All student applicants must submit a short Statement of Interest (100 words or less), the name of the program they are enrolled in, and expected graduation year to aianyinteriors@gmail.com on or before Friday, July 2 at 5:00 PM ET to be considered.


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