The Sustainable Modular Classroom by ARC


The President of the AIA, R.K. Stewart, wrote recently: "It is imperative that we design the next generation of schools to teach about a more sustainable way of living, use minimal energy, eliminate the creation of toxins and waste and be interdependent with natural systems."

Unfortunately, the construction of schools takes longer than the subdivisions they are supposed to serve. Ideally, school construction would be modular and flexible, to follow the demographic need; what we usually get is the dreaded mouldy portable classroom. The architectural firm ARC has revisited the portable, with the goal " to design a safe, healthy, durable and environmentally friendly advanced learning structure within a realistic budget. Ultimately, the unit is designed for sustainability, flexibility, comfort and appeal."


According to the architect, The Carroll School in Lincoln, Mass. is "the nation's first green modular school building." (although Jennifer Siegel might have some disagreement with that point). Some of its features, as described by architect Philip Laird of ARC:

To minimize electrical usage, our design integrated several day-lighting strategies to maximize natural light such as increased glazing utilizing exterior sun shades, interior light shelves, light-tubes, and automatic self-dimming lighting controls. Other strategies included a high efficiency heating and cooling unit and the use of a vestibule to reduce heating and cooling losses. An independent consultant has stated that the new building is 54 percent more efficient than the state energy code requirements.

Furthermore, ARC was responsible for evaluating the costs and benefits of the materials used. To minimize the amount of construction waste -- most of which was recycled -- the building module was based on standard building material dimensions. Here are some other key features:

:: A steel stud frame with an air barrier, rigid insulation and vapor barrier blanketing the exterior helps prevent moisture intrusion and thermal bridging, providing a much better protection against any potential mold contamination.

:: As many of the materials as possible were eco-friendly, including formaldehyde-free and low-VOC paints, coatings and sealants; recycled steel; water-based icynene floor insulation; MDF made from recovered wood fiber; bamboo; and recycled-content carpet tiles. Many of these materials are also mold-resistant.

:: The vestibule acts as a thermal and noise buffer, while the walk-off mat keeps moisture and dirt from entering the classroom.

:: White roofing reflects solar heat and reduces cooling loads on the classroom.


The architect makes an important point about modular construction and its promise for better, more flexible schools:

there has been a mistaken belief that a "modular building" is just an interim space solution set up on a site until the "real building" comes along. Yes, there are some modular units that are used for short-term purposes. But in many cases, modular construction is simply an alternate method of building - with little compromise to architectural, mechanical or electrical design features. They have to adhere to full code compliance and held to the same or higher design/engineering review and inspection processes and standards, as conventional methods.


::Modular Building Institute and ::Smartspace