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Space and Creativity: Students’ Opinions on School Space as a Component of the Creative Environment


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Space understood as physical environment is the object of research in many fields, including social sciences. Previous studies point to the importance it may have for creative activity. School is one of the spaces where creative activity takes place. School is also supposed to support the development of students’ creativity. The article presents research on school as a physical environment facilitating creativity. The main aim of the presented study was to identify the characteristics of schools that students evaluated as favourable and unfavourable to their creative activity. The following research questions were addressed: What features of school space are evaluated by students as favourable to their creative activity? What features of school space are evaluated by students as unfavourable to their creative activity? The research made it possible to identify the elements of school that students see as support for, or hindrance to, their creative activity.
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Vol. 3, Issue 1, 2016
Space and Creativity: Students’ Opinions on School Space
as a Component of the Creative Environment
Marta Galewska-Kustra
The Maria Grzegorzewska University, Poland
E-mail address:
Creative space
Creative physical environment
Creative school spaces
Creative school
Space understood as physical environment is the object
of research in many fields, including social sciences. Previ-
ous studies point to the importance it may have for creative
activity. School is one of the spaces where creative activity
takes place. School is also supposed to support the develop-
ment of students’ creativity. The article presents research
on school as a physical environment facilitating creativity.
The main aim of the presented study was to identify the
characteristics of schools that students evaluated as favour-
able and unfavourable to their creative activity. The following
research questions were addressed: What features of school
space are evaluated by students as favourable to their crea-
tive activity? What features of school space are evaluated
by students as unfavourable to their creative activity?
The research made it possible to identify the elements
of school that students see as support for, or hindrance to,
their creative activity.
The physical environment is important for the development and functioning of the human
being. Support for this thesis can be found in neuroscientific studies showing the impact
of physical space on the construction and functioning of the brain. Research shows that
neurogenesis is a process conditioned not only by biological factors, but also by external
factors such as physical activity and the complexity of the external environment. Environ-
mental enrichment has a positive impact on the structure and functioning of the brain (the
amount of dendrites, the number of synapses) and on neurogenesis in the hippocampal
area (e.g., Brown et al., 2003).
Space is also an object of interest in social sciences, including education studies,
but it is certainly not a mainstream issue. However, it is worth noting that the physical en-
vironment where the learning process takes place has always been important
Article history:
Received 15 December 2015
Received in revised form 24 March 2016
Accepted 26 March 2016
ISSN: 2354-0036
DOI: 10.1515/ctra-2016-0006
Theories Research Applications
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in the thought of education reformers. It is enough to mention certain assumptions of edu-
cational philosophies of movements such as naturalism or progressivism to see how im-
portant the issue was for their representatives. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Dewey
or Ellen Key, the environment for upbringing and formal education was crucial. We are
familiar with the descriptions of the difficulties faced by John Dewey (2010) in the search for
school equipment that would make it possible to create an environment "for acting" rather
than "for listening." The change that consists of placing the child at the centre of the learn-
ing process, deeming the child to be an active participant and instigator of his or her educa-
tion, required a new environment, allowing and promoting personal activity. In the case
of the Maria Montessori method, the design of the environment became one of the essen-
tial foundations of the entire educational system that was meant to create the possibility
of achieving the essential aim: the independence of the child. Space is therefore consid-
ered by many educators, but is not a frequent subject of empirical, educational research.
The situation is similar in the case of creativity research. The importance of space
and the material world in creativity is still quite rarely addressed, but the existing findings
make it possible to identify the characteristics that facilitate or constrain the creative pro-
cess. Dul, Ceylan, and Jaspers (2011) reviewed recent studies in this field and summa-
rized the features of space that are relevant to creativity, such as: any view from the win-
dow, furniture, privacy, lighting, plants, physical indoor climate (humidity, temperature),
sounds (positive: music, absence of noise, silence), odours (positive: fresh air, absence
of bad smell). McCoy and Evans (2002) identified a view of the natural environment, soci-
opetal design, the presence of natural materials, the complexity of the space and the
number of objects in the space as creative space characteristics, while lack of a view
from the window, synthetic materials and colours, were considered to be elements unfa-
vourable for creativity. Steidle and Werth (2013) suggested that dim light or even dark-
ness may encourage creative thinking.
School is the place where a child spends most of the time during the day. If, there-
fore, school is treated as an important place in supporting the student’s creative develop-
ment, its space also becomes an interesting object of interest for creativity researchers.
Some researchers point to the physical environment of the school as one of the im-
portant environmental aspects of the student’s creative activity (Davies, Jindal-Snape
et al., 2013) and provide tips on the arrangement of that space to support creativity
(Amabile, 1989; Paris, Edwards et al., 2006), but research rarely relates to school as the
physical environment for students’ creative activities. Davies, Jindal-Snape, Collier,
Digby, Hayand Howe (2013), provide a critical analysis of selected empirical studies relat-
Galewska-Kustra, M. Space and Creativity: Students’ Opinions on School Space …
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ed to this issue (such as: Addison, Burgess, Steers, & Trowell, 2010; Bancroft, Fawcett,
& Hay, 2008; Davies, 2011; Gandini, Hill, Cadwell, & Schwall, 2005; Jeffrey, 2006). Their
analysis leads them to recommend the following: a flexible working environment that
adapts to the student’s activity, the participation of parents and students in planning and
equipping the class, the formation of large open spaces allowing free movement and ac-
tivity depending on the student’s needs. They also mention equipment as an essential
element of the physical environment and recommend, for example, ensuring the availabil-
ity and variety of resources and materials that can be used in different ways to support
student’s creativity.
Loi and Dillon (2006) also mention equipment. They treat the creative physical envi-
ronment as part of continuous interaction with the student. Trying to build the concept of
“adaptive educational environments as creative spaces,” the authors point to objects that
are strange and surprising and, when deliberately placed in space, can provoke or inspire
creative action. Teresa Amabile (1989) describes supportive classroom space as visually
stimulating, giving an opportunity for contact with various materials that inspire students
to explore various areas of creativity, as well as for contact with creative products, includ-
ing the effects of students’ own creative activity. Other researchers give similar guide-
lines, describing a classroom that is conducive to creative activity, as surrounding the stu-
dent with objects to explore and encouraging him or her to ask questions, and at the
same time, full of materials (objects of everyday use, including ones brought by the stu-
dents) that can be used to solve various problems (Paris, Edwards et al., 2006).
Fifty students (aged 16 years; 31 women and 19 men) from a public high school in Łódź
(the third largest city in Poland) took part in the study. The school was built in the 1980s,
and its architecture is typical of Polish public schools, which were set up on a large scale
during the Communist period. The school building is an example of socialist-realist archi-
tecture, whose purpose was to reflect the spirit of the socialist system. In spite of political
and economic developments in Poland after 1989, the architecture of school buildings
has remained largely unchanged. The vast majority of today's public school students
study in buildings whose architecture is very similar to that of the school examined in this
In the first part of the study, an instrument consisting of open-ended questions was used.
It related to the presented problem situation (students solving problems creatively on the
school premises). Students were asked, individually, to indicate the places at school
Creativity. Theories Research Applications 3(1) 2016
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where they would be most and least likely to go in a given situation: Imagine that you
need to solve an unusual task at school. To solve it, it is not enough to give a short an-
swer. It is also not enough to recall, for example, the date of some historical event. The
task is a real problem to solve. It demands that you find a lot of unusual, creative solu-
tions. You need to solve this problem at school, but you can choose any place within its
premises, even a place where students do not usually go. Then the students justified their
choices, answering the following questions: Why would you choose this particular place?
What is there within its space that would help you solve the problem? Why wouldn’t you
go to this place? Why can’t you imagine solving the problem there? Try to justify your
choice. There was no time limit for completing the document. It usually took students
around 40 minutes to complete it.
In the second part of the study, 24 students (six groups of four students) were asked
to make any changes they wanted in the arrangement of the space presented in random-
ly chosen pictures (presented on B1 sheets). Some of the data obtained was used in the
second stage of study: the images presented places that had been indicated in the first
stage as the least conducive to the process of solving the creative problem. The idea
of the creative project was to enrich the previously obtained data and confirm the pro-
and anti-creative characteristics of the school listed by the students in the first part of the
study. At this stage, an additional instrument consisting of open-ended questions was al-
so administered and the freely offered opinions of the participants were collected,
in which they justified their choice of solutions. Before starting to work on the task, each
student received a sheet of paper with a description of a problematic situation the same
as in the first stage. This time, however, they were told that they would have to solve the
problem in the place shown in the picture. The task was as follows: How would you
change the place in order to make it more conducive to solving the problem and more
helpful in the process of completing the task? Use your own ideas to try to design chang-
es to the space presented. Remember they are meant to be changes that, in your opin-
ion, would improve the conditions for solving a particular task. During this stage, the stu-
dents were allowed to use sheets of paper (B1 format), marker pens, glue, scissors, and
numerous images showing interior equipment (they could choose any of these materials).
At the end of the task, the students justified the changes they had applied in writing and
verbally. The estimated time allowed for the task was 1.5 hrs., but all of the students
managed to complete it somewhat sooner.
Written and verbal (transcribed) opinions as well as visual works (art works) were
collected as the outcome of the study. The process of analysis included open and selec-
tive coding of the qualitative data (Gibbs, 2011). The aim of the analysis was to identify
Galewska-Kustra, M. Space and Creativity: Students’ Opinions on School Space …
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the main categories (characteristics of the school) emerging from the participants’ evalua-
tion of spaces with low and high perceived creativity potential.
Pro-Creative Places at School and Their Characteristics in Students’ Opinions
In listing the places they would choose for solving the creative problem, students usually
gave examples of selected classrooms or isolated spaces that gave them a sense of pri-
vacy and allowed them to focus (the library, unfrequented nooks such as quiet, unpopular
ends of hallways and classrooms) as well as places that allowed free behaviour (a hall-
way functioning as a dining space, with small shops around it). It should be stressed that,
in this case, the students often selected classrooms, but these indications related to only
a few classrooms out of the large quantity of those available at this school. The reason
for this is the factor that determined the choice of classroom: a teacher who was liked.
Only classrooms associated with a popular teacher were mentioned at this stage of re-
search. The characteristics that determined the choice of a particular space (in order
of the frequency of student’s indications) were as follows:
1. The presence of people who could help in the problem solving process. In particular:
the presence of a popular, friendly teacher (the vast majority of justifications): “I would
go there because teachers teaching in this classrooms create an amazing atmos-
phere.”; “I can count on the teacher’s support there.”; “I would choose the history class-
room because the history teacher has a good sense of humour and likes to work with
students, and his classes are interesting. I have positive associations with this place.”;
“I feel comfortable there, I am not ashamed to ask questions.”; “I feel very good there,
teachers are very close to us there, we can talk about everything with them.”;
the presence of colleagues, who could possibly provide inspiration during problem
solving: “I would choose the hallway because many of my friends are there during
the breaks, and they would probably help me with some good ideas.”
2. The physical features of the place. In particular:
silence, peacefulness, privacy and isolation (the second most frequently mentioned
feature): “I would choose this place because this hallway is peaceful and you can
focus.”; “This place is not very comfortable, but it is peaceful with not too many peo-
ple around. So you can do the task in peace.”; ‘There are fewer people around and
it’s quieter than other places at school.”
3. The furnishings/equipment of the place: equipment allowing free behaviour, relaxation
(for example, drinking and eating while working); the availability of seats; access to the
Internet and a computer: “The equipment here is suitable for the creative process.”
Creativity. Theories Research Applications 3(1) 2016
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4. General, not clearly specified features of the place, determining its positive evaluation,
described as:
A sense of leisure and relaxation: “The hallway is a nice place. You can easily sit
there, there is no chaos, sometimes they play some music there.”; “That place is co-
zy, you can unwind there.”;
a general good mood: “I simply like it, there is a good atmosphere there.”
Anti-Creative Places at School and Their Characteristics in Students’ Opinion
Asked about places where they would not go in order to solve creative tasks, the students
most often pointed to particular classrooms and places that did not give a sense of priva-
cy and the possibility to focus (extremely crowded school hallways, the main hall of the
school).The features that determined the negative evaluation of particular places were as
follows (in order of the frequencyof students’ indications):
1. The presence of negatively evaluated people are associated with the place, in particular:
the presence of an unpopular teacher who teaches in a particular classroom: “I don’t
feel comfortable there. I don’t like the classes taught by those teachers, and that is
why I don’t like those places.”
2. The physical features of the place, such as: noise, crowdedness, poor light, humidity,
lack of fresh air, uncomfortable temperature, unpleasant smells (cigarettes, toilets, food).
The art projects completed by the students provided another opportunity for them to
specify the features of pro-creative places. The elements that were changed or removed
from the spaces presented in the pictures also partly confirmed the data relating to anti-
creative places, obtained in Stage 1.
Figure 1 Negative people makes negative places:
I don’t like the classes taught by those teachers, that is why I don’t like those places.
Galewska-Kustra, M. Space and Creativity: Students’ Opinions on School Space …
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In the case of classrooms, the first and most frequent element that was changed
was the teacher. The students justified this as follows: “The worst thing about this class-
room is the presence of the teacher who creates a stressful atmosphere. He insults stu-
dents, is arrogant, and doesn’t possess knowledge of the subject that he teaches. The
students predicted that bringing about a change in the teacher would leave them in a bet-
ter mental state. A new teacher would help and support us”; “I don’t like the teacher
in this classroom. He constantly uses ready answers for the tests and the Internet. That’s
why nobody likes him. (…) in our project we have included a new teacher.” Once again
the teacher was the most important factor in the students’ perceptions of school space.
Other changes made by the students related to the following groups of features:
1. Equipment that would influence the general positive atmosphere of the place, including:
elements making the atmosphere of the place less formal and more homely: a small
kitchen, a fridge, a kettle, a table with food, sofas, armchairs, a fireplace, pets
(a dog), a change of wall colours to more “inspiring,”“warm,” or“focus-supporting” ;
equipment introducing an atmosphere of joy: a swing (“It was added because it is
something that brings joy into life”); natural plants (“Natural, beautiful flowers always
set up a good mood”).
2. Elements of design influencing the physical parameters of the place: larger windows,
better lights (“…so there is more air and light”).
3. Elements providing comfort: armchairs, sofas, benches with soft pillows (“…for comfort
and relaxation”).
Figure 2 Changes of the anti-creative corridor: making the place more comfort, joyful and
inspiring benches with soft pillows, a table with food, a swing, inspiring posters.
Creativity. Theories Research Applications 3(1) 2016
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The second stage of the study confirmed the data obtained in the first stage. In the stu-
dents’ projects, the teacher associated with a given space became the first source of re-
flection and change. Further changes were focused on introducing elements that made
the space less formal, more welcoming and more relaxing, as well as encouraging free
Negative people make negative (anti-creative) places, positive people make places
positive (pro-creative) at school?
In evaluating school space as a place of potential creative activity, students indicated fea-
tures related to the physical atmosphere of the place that in their view, might promote
or hinder the creative process. Places they considered to be potentially conducive to their
creativity were quiet, peaceful and isolated. However, the most important element associ-
ated with any place was the teacher. As one of the participants wrote: The place is not
important at all, it is all about the teacher. Choosing classrooms conducive to creative ac-
tivity, students often mentioned a friendly teacher, who would help them to solve the
problem. The teacher became even more important when students pointed to places they
considered unfavourable to creativity. Places were dismissed by students if they were as-
sociated with an unpopular or hostile teacher. Other elements indicated earlier by creativ-
ity researchers (e.g., furniture, light, indoor physical climate) were also mentioned by the
students, but it was the human factor that turned out to be the most important in the eval-
uation of places.
The presented study was an introduction to a broader research project on the im-
pact of the school space on students’creative activity. Such research demands, among
other things, a larger study sample. But the very need for such a sample already supports
the first assumption, connected with the finding reported by Dul, Jaspers, and Ceylan
(2011): space is important for creativity, but even more important is the social environ-
ment. In the case of school space, the social environment is decisive. Basically, this re-
sult only confirms that school is a place where social relationships and interactions be-
tween individuals are of special significance and play a crucial role. Based on students’
answers, we can formulate a conclusion that requires further study: negative people
make negative (anti-creative) places, while positive people make places positive (pro-
creative).This conclusion, however, should not lead us to abandon considering space
a significant element in school creativity. Further studies seem advisable; they should ex-
amine the relationship between space and the students’ social environment. McCoy
(2005) addressed these assumptions indicating the potential of space as a factor support-
ing creative teamwork.
Galewska-Kustra, M. Space and Creativity: Students’ Opinions on School Space …
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In the “pedagogy of place,”which has recently been developing in Poland, research-
ers highlight the importance of the space where education takes place. According to one
of the Polish specialists in the field, creating this kind of place with pedagogical intention
may itself be education (Mendel, 2006). The presented research was conducted in typical
Polish school spaces, which need many changes. The awareness of this fact is more and
more often an inspiration, not only for research, but also for attempts to introduce practi-
cal changes to the school environment in Poland. In the case of Polish education, a visi-
ble transition has been in progress in recent years: from research interest in the school
space and the school building, including their symbolic significance (Nalaskowski, 2002;
Nowotniak, 2006), to the implementation of practical projects that, by inspiring people in-
volved in education, it is hoped, will bring about real changes to schools (for instance, the
EDUSPACES21 project:
School is one of the most important places for students’ development and creative
activity. Further research on the physical school environment could be an important aim
for creativity researchers interested in educational practices that promote children’s crea-
tivity. The physical environment should also be seen as an important factor in the general
creativity environment. It demands attention in further research and should be taken into
account in theoretical concepts of creativity (Glaveanu, 2013).
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Galewska-Kustra, M. Space and Creativity: Students’ Opinions on School Space …
Corresponding author at: Marta Galewska-Kustra, Creative Education Lab, The Maria
Grzegorzewska University, Szczesliwicka St., 40, 02-353 Warsaw, Poland
©Copyright by Faculty of Pedagogy and Psychology, University of Bialystok,
20 Swierkowa St., 15-328 Bialystok, Poland
tel. +48857457283
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This paper integrates theoretical perspectives and practical insights to offer a conceptualization of adaptive educational environments as creative spaces for fostering certain intellectual abilities associated with creativity, notably transference and synthesis in cross‐disciplinary situations. When educational environments are modeled as systems, mechanisms that maintain stability or lead to change in the system can be described. Educational systems in stasis may be good for promoting some kinds of learning, but not so good for promoting intellectual abilities associated with creativity. It is proposed that designed interventions may change the system so that it is more conducive to certain outcomes. Such designed interventions may involve the use of facilitating technologies and pedagogies that change situational and social dynamics. The potential of digital tools in this context is considered. Examples of designed interventions are drawn from work on ‘Playful Triggers’ and ‘eccentric objects and odd experiences’ and independently‐derived theoretical constructs are used to account for the creative outcomes of interventions. While outlining intentions for future research, the paper highlights some educational challenges of conceptualizing adaptive environments as creative spaces and their implications for practice.
“Play something for me.” “What do you want me to play?” “Anything you want! Just whatever comes into your head.” “Uh … without music? I dunno!” With encouragement, some children will take the tentative steps necessary to create a song. Younger children who have never taken lessons happily poke at keys, creating an atonal, arrhythmic stream that, by Western standards, would not be considered musically pleasing. Older children take a different tact. After looking rather uncomfortable and somewhat helpless, they play a song that they have been taught by a friend or sibling (such as “Chopsticks” or “100 bottles of beer on the wall”). When I ask for something more “creative, ” they most often deny my request, stating that the very reason they have come for lessons is to be taught how to play and what did I expect? The same task, the same setting, but the younger children are more likely to attack the creative challenge fearlessly. Unaware of harmonic rules, these children seem oblivious to tonality, allowing their creations to include atonal combinations. The older children give a safe, constrained response or ask for direction. Following instruction, the results are no more encouraging. Once taught that a C chord safely goes with a group of notes in C major and then asked to create music, children will play only what they think fits within the C chord structure.
What is distinctive about art and design as a subject in secondary schools? What contribution does it make to the wider curriculum? How can art and design develop the agency of young people? Understanding Art Education examines the theory and practice of helping young people learn in and beyond the secondary classroom. It provides guidance and stimulation for ways of thinking about art and design when preparing to teach and provides a framework within which teachers can locate their own experiences and beliefs. Designed to complement the core textbook Learning to Teach Art and Design in the Secondary School, which offers pragmatic approaches for trainee and newly-qualified teachers, this book suggests ways in which art and design teachers can engage reflexively with their continuing practice. Experts in the field explore: The histories of art and design education and their relationship to wider social and cultural developments. Creativity as a foundation for learning. Engaging with contemporary practice in partnership with external agencies. The role of assessment in evaluating creative and collaborative practices. Interdisciplinary approaches to art and design. Developing dialogue as a means to address citizenship and global issues in art and design education. Understanding Art Education will be of interest to all students and practising teachers, particularly those studying at M Level, as well as teacher educators, and researchers who wish to reflect on their identity as an artist and teacher, and the ways in which the subject can inform and contribute to education and society more widely. © 2010 Nicholas Addison, Lesley Burgess, John Steers and Jane Trowell. All rights reserved.
Creative achievement of teams is increasingly recognized as an organization's most valuable production. With dramatically advancing technology producing an almost unlimited amount of available information, the crucial challenge to many corporate and government organizations is how to use that information most creatively. While little expense is spared on identifying and training teams to enhance their potential for creative achievement, little is known about how, or if, the physical designed environment of these organizations supports creative achievement of teams. This review of literature across the disciplines of creativity, organizational behavior, and environment and behavior studies advocates a position for the physical environment in the context of creativity. Creative team characteristics and social influences are linked to properties and attributes of the physical office environment.
For the past 5 decades the psychology of creativity has been influenced by what is known as the 4 P's of creative expression: person, process, product, and press. This conceptual schema, initially proposed by Rhodes (1961), helped researchers structure their thinking about the phenomenon. However, it also supported an individualistic, static, and oftentimes disjointed vision of creativity. The present article aims to rewrite this fundamental language of the discipline by using terms that explicitly endorse a systemic, contextual, and dynamic approach. The 5 A's framework—actor, action, artifact, audience, affordances—is grounded in current literature from sociocultural and ecological psychology as well as theories of the distributed mind and tries to achieve a more comprehensive and unitary perspective on creativity. Several theoretical, methodological, and practical implications are considered. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)
Employee creativity is critical to organizational competitiveness. However, the potential contribution made by the workspace and the physical environment is not fully taken into account because, up to now, it has been rather unclear how aspects of the physical environment, especially light, can support creativity. Consequently, in six studies, the present research investigated the effect of light and darkness on creative performance. We expected that darkness would offer individuals freedom from constraints, enabling a global and explorative processing style, which in turn facilitates creativity. First, four studies demonstrated that both priming darkness and actual dim illumination improved creative performance. The priming studies revealed that the effect can occur outside of people's awareness and independent of differences in visibility. Second, two additional studies tested the underlying mechanism and showed that darkness elicits a feeling of being free from constraints and triggers a risky, explorative processing style. As expected, perceived freedom from constraints mediated the effect of dim illumination on creativity. Third, moderation analyses demonstrated the effects' boundary conditions: the darkness-related increase in creativity disappeared when using a more informal indirect light instead of direct light or when evaluating ideas instead of generating creative ideas. In sum, these results contribute to the understanding of visual atmospheres (i.e. visual messages), their importance for lighting effects, and their impact via conceptual links and attentional tuning. Limitations as well as practical implications for lighting design are discussed. (c) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Two studies investigated the role of specific interior design elements on creativity. In Study 1, a photographic structured Q sort was used to determine where participants would feel most creative and least creative. Content analysis of the photographs by independent raters scaled each setting according to size, shape, light, internal organization of objects, and characteristics of bounding surfaces. Analyses identified 5 environmental characteristics that independently predicted greater perceived creativity: (a) complexity of visual detail, (b) view of natural environment, (c) use of natural materials, (d) with fewer cool colors used, and (e) less use of manufactured or composite surface materials. In Study 2, tests of actual creative performance were administered in 2 different settings. One setting had been rated relatively high in creativity potential, and the other setting was rated relatively low in creativity potential by the original participants in Study 1. Creative performance of an independent sample was greater in the setting that had been rated higher in creativity potential by participants in Study 1.