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The (Sustainble) Future of Modular Classrooms, Designed Here

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The 'modular classroom' has been a quick, somewhat inexpensive fix for school overcrowding for a while now; clusters of the ubiquitous beige trailers can be found next to school buildings throughout Georgia, and indeed, the entire country. Though often meant as a temporary solution, these classrooms- essentially double-wides- tend to stick around, which is quite unfortunate for students, teachers, the environment and aesthetes.

Responding to this reality, Allen Post, an architect in the the Atlanta office of Perkins+Will, began working on the idea that has become Sprout Space, a pre-fabricated modular classroom that is both a high-performance learning environment and a high-performance sustainable structure. In addition to winning an international competition sponsored by Architecture for Best Re-locatable Classroom design, Sprout Space has been selected to appear in the Green Schools exhibit this fall at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

Following revelations of health hazards of normal trailers (like those distributed by FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina), it's appropriate that the most crucial aspects of Sprout Space's green design benefit the physical and mental health of students and teachers. The units are pre-engineered and built in a factory, which reduces cost, construction time and waste. Their carefully-proscribed design and construction with exclusively low-emitting materials results in the elimination of mold growth during construction and excellent air quality (also thanks also to quiet, high-efficiency HVAC systems) for users over a longer life cycle than a typical trailer. The design also seeks to open the classroom to as much natural light as possible, which has been shown to improve retention and test scores among students.

Post, his colleagues at Perkins + Will and Triumph Modular, their fabrication partner also focused on creating an environment geared toward the art and science of teaching. Features like doors that can open the entire unit to the outside, exterior marker boards and flexible furniture arrangements give teachers relegated to modular classrooms several new tools. And indeed, the entire Sprout Space unit is a teaching tool in itself, where students can observe 'sustainability' in real-time as rainwater is collected in cisterns and solar energy is generated by (optional) photovoltaic cells on the roof.

Like most innovative development, cost remains the largest impediment to mass adoption of Sprout Space throughout the U.S. education system. At approximately $150 per square foot, Sprout Space rings in at twice the price of a standard trailer. And though these costs are highly likely to be re-couped in the big picture, cash-strapped states and school districts are understandably challenged in adopting the technology.

Eventually, though, sustainable technology will become both economically-feasible and a practical imperative. And Atlanta architectural talent and entrepreneurial spirit will have had a hand in greatly improving the lives of students and teachers.

· Sprout Space: An eco-modular solution for growing communities [Perkins + Will folio]
· Sprout Space [Triumph Modular official site]

Perkins+Will Atl

1315 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, GA 30309 404-873-2300