Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens executive director Richard Piacentini stands in front of the newly installed modular classroom.

Later this month, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, in Pittsburgh, is debuting a sustainable modular classroom designed to Living Building Challenge (LBC) standards. The classroom joins the site's Center for Sustainable Landscapes, which received full LBC certification last week. As the new home of Phipps’ science education programs, the classroom is developed by Sustainable Education Every Day (SEED) Collaborative, a Seattle-based organization that develops sustainably restorative learning spaces.

Paul G. Wiegman The installation of the modular classroom.

The Phipps building is the second SEED classroom in the country, following the Perkins School in Seattle. The designs of the two spaces are similar, but SEED Collaborative executive director and designer of the Phipps space Stacy Smedley tweaked the overall plan for the Pittsburgh classroom, adding a vestibule and French doors that open onto a deck.

A 2013 report from the Modular Building Institute estimates that the U.S. has approximately 260,000 modular classrooms in use. While often considered a convenient solution for schools to expand, modular classrooms can also pose potential health and environmental risks, such as poor indoor air quality and toxins.

To meet LBC requirements, the SEED classrooms feature materials that are free from the International Living Future Institute's Red List, produce their own water and energy, treat and recycle all sanitary and stormwater on site, and have an energy recovery ventilator for optimum ventilation and indoor air quality. The spaces are built to last 100 years on a foundation system, reducing the environmental impact on its site and allowing the modular classroom to be moved or remain permanent.

“Phipps has demonstrated leadership by being the first on the East Coast to embrace a SEED Classroom,” Smedley said in a press release. “We are excited to be a part of Phipps’ continued commitment to educating children and adults on the important role that the built environment should play in restoring planetary and human health. This space will be a hands-on learning laboratory, informing how we think about a Living Building designed classroom as a tool for education and engagement.”

The modular classroom arrived at the site on March 17 and will officially open on April 23.