March 13, 2019 Freedom by Design and Local Elementary School Partner for Design/Build Project

Our community service student group Freedom by Design is helping a local elementary school design and build an unusual little library for use by the school and community.

Students in Freedom by Design, a program of the American Institute of Architecture Students and National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, are collaborating with students and teachers at Green Magnet Academy, a Knox County Schools STEAM elementary school to build the Little STEAM Library.

A little library is normally a wooden box, akin to a large mailbox, that is located in a public place.  It accommodates a free book exchange, and anyone in the community can borrow or leave books at their convenience.

The Little STEAM Library will be located on the grounds at Green Magnet Academy and is intended to serve students and the surrounding community to promote STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) learning.

The Little STEAM Library is a vertical waffle structure with the voids acting as bookshelves. Operable transparent doors will be attached to each void to protect the books. Together, the doors also will act as a modern conceptual stained-glass window, an idea from the Green Magnet Academy students. In addition, the library will accompany a seating space made from rocks that the elementary students will paint.

Currently, the Freedom by Design students are creating mock-up examples of the project for approval by city and county officials and the board of education.

“In architecture, we are always collaborating, and this project makes the collaborative effort more real,” said Elizabeth Ott, 5th-year Architectures student and director of Freedom by Design. “Through working with various groups including engineers, the client [Green Magnet Academy], the Knox County Schools Director of Facilities and others, we learn how to interact and present ideas to different professionals while giving back to our local communities.”

So far, Freedom by Design has secured limited funding, including contributions from NCARB and funds from AIAS’s annual pig roast, for supplies. They also are fundraising for the project through VOLStarter, UT Knoxville’s crowdsourcing platform, to raise $2,500 by March 30. The money will go toward purchasing remaining supplies and books and toward completing the ground work and installation.

The Little STEAM Library will be installed in April and May with a grand opening before the Green Magnet Academy students’ semester ends in late May.

Green Magnet Academy students working during a Freedom by Design workshop

The partnership between Freedom by Design and Green Magnet Academy started in 2018. Since then, Freedom by Design has been visiting Green Magnet Academy not only to gather design ideas for the project but also to lead design workshops to teach the students about basic design principles such as light and color.

“Working with the elementary students has been enlightening.  They have challenged how we think about design and informed our decisions throughout the process,” Ott said. “This partnership makes the end product more rewarding and something that both parties can be proud of.”

Freedom by Design is an AIAS community service group that gives back to the community in various ways, including partnering on projects like the Little STEAM Library, designing and building accessibility ramps and proposing new modular affordable housing.

As a college, we support our student organizations, like Freedom by Design, in their goals to cultivate curiosity and innovation in design and to further embrace the Knoxville maker culture in the classroom and in the community.

Interested in our student organizations? Visit