Temporary classrooms, trailers, portables, classroom cottages—call them what you will. There are 300,000 of them in the United States, where 7.5 million students go to learn. Yet these "temporary" rooms often stay rooted for an average of five years, meaning structures designed to be a quick band-aid for enrollment overflow or construction become fixed classrooms.
"That’s our challenge," Allen Post, an architect at the Perkins+Will architecture and design firm, tells Co.Design. "Temporary classrooms are loud, you can’t see, you’re in a dungeon—they’re inhospitable to learning."
Those "inhospitable dungeons" drove the design for Sprout Space, the firm’s eco-modular classrooms, and award-winner for the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge from Architecture for Humanity. Post, who became fascinated with modular construction while studying the 2.5 million homes built under Nelson Mandela’s housing mandate in South Africa, wants to shift the paradigm for temporary classrooms in favor of healthier learning environments. Perkins+Will vets all materials used to eliminate off-gassing in classrooms. Natural ventilation allows fresh air into the rooms to up the indoor air quality.
Some of the most thoughtful design touches should affect teachers’ curriculum as well. A butterfly-shaped roof not only allows for maximum sunlight to beam indoors (which helps to bump up test scores), but also catches rainwater and funnels it to class-side gardens, where students can learn about crops. The rooftop solar panels link to a real-time website that students can use to monitor energy use throughout the building.
While Sprout Space already has orders out for a new charter school near Atlanta, it’s still in something of a beta stage, and tests on the room’s air quality and energy production will begin this year. A prototype is currently being assembled on the lawn of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. Visitors can tour the exhibit during regular hours, and during the morning the museum will sponsor a group of kids to study in the classroom.