Working environments

Workshop Space

By Meredith Bostwick-Lorenzo Eiroa


Unfinished space has the potential to be creative because it gives ‘permission’ to users to use it in ways that finished spaces do not. Workshop space waits to be defined – an undecorated room, machine shop, hangar, or warehouse space – left rough around the edges.

Its unfinished quality encourages a dynamic fun space in which to tinker, fail, and figure things out. It is a space where experimenting is allowed (and expected). It is a space where it is OK to be messy.

Workshop space can function like a ‘popup whitespace’and can form itself on-demand when there is a critical mass and the need to solve a problem.



  • Creative individuals, especially ‘free radicals’ (Marshall, 2013)
  • Lofted, raw, garage-type space
  • A variety of tools, equipment and instrumentation
  • High-performance hardware and software (an array of digital design tools)
  • ‘Idea closets’ (smaller areas for quiet thinking and small-group collaboration)
  • Access to spare parts, leftovers, junk and componentry
  • Gadgets, robotics, building blocks, circuits, assemblies and prototypes
  • Adjustable tables with open shelving
  • Large-format layout surfaces – both vertical and horizontal
  • Transparent storage units and magnetic surfaces for tool accessibility
  • Abundant power, services and utilities as required


  1. Find a space that is unfinished, unused or that no one else seems to care about. To encourage ‘big thinking’ try to find larger spaces (double-height or lofted space) or an area which provides the physical space needed to work around larger prototypes and projects. It can be worth trying to get your institution to support the creation of such a space, but if you can’t, try the Rebel space recipe.
  2. Populate this space with affordances suitable for tinkering, making and playing. See the list of ingredients above for examples.
  3. The active component of this Workshop space recipe is physical activity. Create a quantity of low-resolution prototypes that can be developed and tested quickly. Ideas are often assimilated through scrap, junk, rubbish, spare parts, and pieces from older, failed prototypes. Physically manipulate your prototypes to experiment with different ideas. A prototype is a physical sketch; it should be malleable, configurable, and editable. This should be a physical process where moving can encourage different thinking.
  4. This physical workshop approach is not limited to physical products or models – ideas and concepts can be modelled too. Think about ways you can represent your thinking physically, for example:

o   Ideas arranged spatially on surfaces or in 3D.

o   Processes physically modelled using stakeholders and contexts.

o   Detailed research explorations that use the physical space to represent scale and detail.

o   Try taking a user trip or ‘bodystorming’ (Witthoft & Geehr, 2010) to physically act out scenarios or events.

  1. Another approach is to break down, disassemble, and reassemble objects through experimentation. Start with something that is ‘complete’ and see what makes it tick – it can be surprising how many other ways there might be of doing something.
  2. This is a cyclical process of quick, iterative physical thinking so make sure you record work in progress as well as completed ideas and prototypes. Try using Broadcast Your Ideas.

Notes on ingredients

John Marshall coined the term ‘free radical’ to describe those individuals who have the intrinsic power to change physical environments and institutional cultures for learning (Marshall, 2013). Marshall describes free radicals as “…people with certain aptitudes and skills – flexibility, comfort with ambiguity, self-direction and the ability to manage change – who are willing, energetic and perhaps foolhardy enough to knock down walls and build bridges to other areas”.

Good examples of workshop spaces are the Culture Lab, Newcastle University; Mixed Reality Laboratory, Nottingham University; and Google’s Campus London.

Cook’s tips

The acoustics in unfinished spaces can be terrible so use soft furnishings in places to help with this, for example, zone areas (idea closets) for quiet collaboration.


When left unsupervised (be it an idea or a prototype), another tinkerer may suggest an alternative approach to solving the problem.

Related recipes

This recipe goes well with Popup whitespace hubs, Broadcast your ideas and Rebel space recipes – in fact, any recipe that needs adaptable space.

BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research is available in paperback, hardback and as Open Access from:

Sense Publishers: Paperback | Hardcover | Free Open Access
Amazon: Paperback | Hardcover
Barnes & Noble: Paperback | Hardcover

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