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SEED Classroom Inspires (Pittsburgh, USA)

Credits: ©2015 R. Rogers / Solaripedia

Unveiled in 2015, the Phipps Conservatory SEED Classroom is one of the first sustainable, modular classrooms in the U.S. - built to maximize student wellness and optimize a learning environment focused on sustainability. Fabricated by EcoCraft Homes and developed by the SEED Collaborative, the SEED Classroom features non-toxic materials, generates its own energy, and recycles water on-site. A hands-on sustainable learning space built to Living Building Challenge standards in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, it is the second such classroom in the U.S., with several more in development. Expected to impact thousands of children each year as the home of Phipps’ science education programs, the sustainable SEED Classroom sparks scientific engagement employing net-zero energy, net-zero water, non-toxic materials, daylighting, urban agriculture and equity components.


SEED Classroom with Kids

Phipps Conservatory and EcoCraft Homes partnered to build the second of only two modular SEED classrooms. The SEED Classroom is a hands-on sustainable learning space at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, built to Living Building Challenge standards. This means that the classroom is net-zero energy, net-zero water, is made of non-toxic materials, includes daylighting, urban agriculture and equity components and creates a space that fosters inspiration, education and beauty. ©2015 Banko Media

Such learning environments can empower students and teachers to engage with the built environment and ecological systems, enabling project-based and applied-learning opportunities that include mastery of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education, arts and social studies.

The SEED Classroom is part of the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at Phipps, aimed at a young audience. The larger CSL is also one of the first certified Living Buildings in the world, also focused on education and demonstration of sustainability principles. 

Research suggests a correlation between access to nature and human health, and this “classroom of the future” helps foster a new generation of environmental stewards. These modular classrooms built by EcoCraft can address schools’ temporary space needs or provide a modular permanent design option. It is built to last 100 years and is designed on a pin foundation system that allows it to have little impact on its site and makes it easy to move it one or more times during its lifetime.

Features include:

Net-Zero Water and Net-zero Energy - Because this is a Living Building, all of its needs must be met on-site. That means that over the span of 12 months the classroom will be so high performing that it will have produced its own water through collection, and its own energy, through solar photovoltaics. This classroom is the most energy-efficient and sustainable on the market.

Non-Toxic Materials Red List Compliant - There are absolutely no toxic materials used in the building of this classroom. The air is free and clear of all of the chemical toxins normally found in portable classrooms.

Abundant Natural Daylighting - Triple-pane windows and transoms, plus eight Solatube skylights, provide abundant natural light, fresh air, and a connection to the outdoors without compromising insulation values.

Solar Photovoltaic Array - Calculated to provide for the exact energy needs of each classroom, depending on climate and use, the solar photovoltaics provide all energy needs for the classroom to be comfortable, well-lit and technology-ready. Digital monitors and an online dashboard allow students to track the energy production and consumption of the classroom and change their behaviors to see what impact they have on the data.

Efficient Mechanical Systems - An energy recovery ventilator (ERV) provides optimum ventilation and indoor air quality as well as heightened energy efficiency.

Rainwater Treatment for Sinks - A potable water treatment system comes in the classrooms where sinks are a desired option.

Rainwater Collection and Filtering All rainwater that falls on the roof is collected in a primary interior cistern and secondary exterior cistern, to meet all water needs of the classroom. Gauges and a digital monitor allow students to track rainwater collection and use.

Living Wall Fed by Treated Graywater - The living wall brings growing plants into the classroom and all the learning opportunities that come with it. The built-in graywater system provides all the necessary water, as well as the opportunity to understand how water moves, is collected and used.

Ongoing Performance Monitoring - Students learn to monitor the building energy and water usage over the course of a year.

Composting Toilet - Composting toilets provide high-efficiency, learning portals for everything from microbiology to exploring alternative treatment systems from composting to living machines to city wide treatment options.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) – Super insulated for superior energy efficiency, the building envelope includes R-49 ceiling plus R-40 wall insulation for 30 percent above code.

Education Integration - Each classroom has tools to facilitate STEM, common core and project based learning opportunities.

SEEDpacket – The classroom comes with a comprehensive manual that outlines the systems in the building, and provides a framework we called the SEEDeducation map for using the building as a teaching tool.

SEEDpatch - The unique online platform allows students all over the world to record, compare and discuss the performance of their classrooms, and what they are learning.

STEM and STEAM Education

STEM education integrates technology into daily classroom teaching methodologies, focusing on applied science, mathematics and engineering curricula, providing ongoing advanced training for teachers and developing core knowledge assessment approaches. The SEED Classroom and SEED Packet handbook employ the building as a living laboratory and a launch point for STEM education, integrating daily activities with operations and maintenance of the SEED Classroom core systems, including net-zero energy, net-zero water, and agriculture components. The SEED program also incorporates Arts and Social Studies into STEM curriculum – or STEAM education.

Student Input

These classrooms are designed for and by students and teachers, creating an environment most suited to inspire and engage the people who will be learning and playing there. Before the building process begins, the SEED team works with students to co-design the classroom space. The team challenges the kids to imagine what would make a classroom "Living," and then incorporates the often innovative ideas into the classroom.

Visit the SEED Classroom

If you are in the Pittsburgh area, you can visit the SEED Classroom on Saturdays from 11 a.m. — 3 p.m. A graduate of the Learning for a Greener Future high school internship will show you the amazing features. No advance reservation is required.


  SEED Classroom Bertschi Slides (1,814 kb)


EcoCraft Homes (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA)

SEED Collaborative (Seattle)

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (Pittsburgh, USA)