Out of the Box

Lesson Plan


Throughout the lesson students will delve into their imaginations using activities and tools designed to explore the Frederic C. Hamilton Building at the Denver Art Museum. They will engage in creativity exercises, build their own “buildings,” and compare their experiences with the creative process used by architect Daniel Libeskind and his team when building the Hamilton Building.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

Two 45 minute lessons

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • identify at least two ways in which they can “warm-up” to think creatively;
  • have greater comfort in taking risks to try innovative ideas;
  • explain one of the creative processes used by Daniel Libeskind and his team; and
  • describe at least two structural strategies that help create stronger supports for “out of the box” architectural designs.


Day 1:

  1. Warm-up: Divide students into groups of three to four (no more than four). Give each group one of the “Creativity Bags” and a piece of paper. Have them take out the objects. On separate piece of paper they need to come up with at least three uses for each object that has nothing to do with its everyday use. Help them by telling them imagine what the objects might be if they were five inches tall or from another planet. Set the norm that no idea is “stupid,” and that during brainstorming every idea should be written down no matter how farfetched. Call on the groups one at a time to share their favorite idea for each object with the class.
  2. Distribute the mini marshmallows and toothpicks to each group. (These are not for eating.)
  3. Ask everyone to build his or her own box using toothpicks and marshmallows.
  4. After everyone has finished, say that now you are going to get “out of the box” and build more interesting shapes. Tell them that as they try different shapes and angles some things will work, others won’t, but their pieces will be more interesting the more things they try. Encourage them to look around at each other’s work to get ideas. Copying is okay; the buildings will still be unique because each student applies the concepts in his or her own way. Note: It’s helpful to share that triangles are one of the strongest structural shapes and will help them do more different things.
  5. Allow them the remainder of the period to build and explore. They can choose to combine the buildings within their group or keep them separate.

Day 2:

“Building Tour” (Please see the information from About the Art on Daniel Libeskind’s creative process; sharing the information and questions with students is a nice way to enrich their thinking and understanding of the building and their creativity.)

  1. Have students get into their original groups and set up their buildings for display.
  2. Allow students time to walk around and “tour” the structures, ask questions, and share praise.
  3. Lead a discussion using some of the following questions plus your own:
    • Which buildings were the most interesting? Why? Daniel Libeskind was inspired by the view of the Rocky Mountains. He actually sketched the mountains when flying in an airplane overhead on his way to Denver. Did any of the students draw inspiration from shapes they’ve seen in nature?
    • What was the greatest challenge in building the structures?
  4. Distribute pictures of the Frederic C. Hamilton building, or display on the overhead screen/wall. Ask students to talk with their groups about the shapes, angles, and overall effect of the building.
    • Have them compare the shapes and angles with those in their buildings. How are they similar? How are they different? To make the Libeskind sketch a reality, Studio Libeskind architects had to make 3-dimensional images from the 2-dimensional lines. They used strips of paper and folded them to play with angles in 3-dimensional form. What types of angles do the students like most in their 3-dimensional structures?
    • What would they need to do structurally to create the angles in the Frederic C. Hamilton building? See “How does the building stay up?” in the "Details" section of About the Art.
    • What materials did they use to cover the Frederic C. Hamilton building? Libeskind used 9,000 titanium panels to cover his building. What materials could you use to cover the buildings?
    • How is space used to accent the shapes? (concept of negative space) See the sections on the prow and atrium in the "Details" section of About the Art.


  • Each of the following is for every three to four students:
    • “Creativity bag”: one snack-size Ziploc bag, one paper clip, one Q-tip, one popsicle stick, one twist-tie for bags, and one bottle cap (these items are flexible – you just need four common items students frequently use and a small bag to keep everything organized)
    • One piece of paper and one pencil
    • One box of round toothpicks (for younger children, you may use the blunt-end toothpicks)
    • ½ bag of mini marshmallows
    • One bag of large marshmallows (for eating – if your school allows. Always check for allergies.)
  • About the Art section on Daniel Libeskind and the Frederic C. Hamilton Building
  • One photograph of the Frederic C. Hamilton Building for every three children, or ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Frederic C. Hamilton Building

Frederic C. Hamilton Building


Daniel Libeskind and Davis Partnership Architects, United States

Who Made It?

Architect Daniel Libeskind worked with Denver-based Davis Partnership Architects to design the Denver Art Museum’s Frederic C. Hamilton Building.

Libeskind was born in Poland in 1946, the son of two Holocaust survivors. At the age of eleven, he immigrated to Israel with his parents, where his family lived for two years before they left for New York. Libeskind was one of the last immigrants to arrive by boat through Ellis Island and he became an American citizen in 1965.

As a child Libeskind was a musical prodigy, winning international competitions with his performances on the accordion. He left music to study architecture at New York’s Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, followed by graduate work at Essex University in England. He went on to work as a professor and theorist before completing his first commission, Berlin’s Jewish Museum, at the age of fifty-two.

The Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building is Libeskind’s first completed building in the United States. He was also chosen as the master plan architect for the World Trade Center site in New York City.

What Inspired It?

In 1999, museum director Lewis Sharp and then-mayor Wellington Webb decided it was time for the museum to expand. A new building would allow the DAM to display more of its world-class collection and provide the space needed to host major traveling exhibitions.

With the Hamilton Building, Daniel Libeskind continued a tradition of bold architecture that began with Gio Ponti’s North Building. Libeskind tells us that he was inspired by the “craggy cliffs of the Rockies” and by his experiences in Denver. He describes Denver as “a dynamic place, the people are dynamic. And that is part of the composition of the building.” The lively architecture signals to the public that new things are going on inside; the experience begins before one even enters the DAM.



Libeskind chose to complement Gio Ponti’s million gray glass tiles of the North Building by selecting another reflective and unusual material: 9,000 titanium panels. Libeskind said, “We had an aim from the beginning: a building that is luminous.” The Hamilton Building’s different sides reflect light at different angles, and thus appear to be different shades of gray. The titanium also reflects varying colors throughout the day. It often appears more rosy in the early morning hours and golden at sunset, depending on the weather.

Fun Fact: 9,000 titanium panels cover the building’s surface.

The Prow
The Prow

The tip of the building, which we call the “prow,” makes a reaching gesture across 13th Avenue toward the North Building and Civic Center. The angled walls of the prow, and the many other angled walls that shape the building, are reflected inside and create unique interior spaces. These dramatic spaces have provided new opportunities for innovative displays of artwork.

The Atrium
The Atrium

Libeskind spoke of the atrium as an introduction to the visitor’s experience of the building: “The first sounds, the atmosphere, the connectivity with that atmosphere—the mood is set. And I think it’s proper that an atrium should set those moods because that’s where you quite literally enter, get informed, get ready for an adventure with art.” The walls and ceiling of the atrium create a variety of shaped spaces, making it one of the most dramatic spaces in the building.

How Does the Building Stay Up?
How Does the Building Stay Up?

The building is essentially a giant truss, meaning its steel frame is a balanced network of interlocking triangles. After all the steel beams are set in place, the building holds itself up and transfers weight to “anchors” of concrete pillars that reach down into bedrock. Libeskind described the building as a tree, branching out from these anchoring “roots.”

Fun Fact: 2,750 tons of steel and 50,000 steel bolts were used in the Hamilton Building.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.