Objects Made exhibitor, Margarette Leite’s more modern approach to portable classroom design.
Q. What prompted your efforts to redesign the portable classroom?
We were motivated in part by personal reasons. One of our children was about to transition into a newly placed modular classroom at her school and many parents and teachers were concerned about the quality of the environment that these kinds of classrooms provided. We’d all heard about the negative aspects of these classrooms so we thought it was time to investigate.
Q. You were able to leverage the talents of architecture students at Portland State University. Can you describe that process and the outcome of that type of group design and collaboration?
We were fortunate enough to be in the business of architecture and the teaching of architecture. And so, as with all significant questions, we posed the challenge to our students to find out what could be done better in the realm of modular classrooms. We hosted a community design charrette with school administrators, modular industry representatives and many local professionals along with well known architect activists from around the country. The students led the process and the groups came up with some very intriguing and considerate solutions. We also had a number of classes and design studios focused on the issue. Much of the students’ work influenced the final design of the SAGE classroom. In fact, several of the students involved continued to work on the project through to the building of the first prototype years later.
Q. You partnered directly with the manufacturers of the portable classroom when you were producing your SAGE model for Greenbuild in 2014. Tell us about the process of utilizing the capabilities of the manufacturer and bringing in a new, more modern and healthier perspective on the design of the classroom.
We were lucky enough to connect with Blazer Industries, an Oregon-based modular manufacturer. As experts in the field, they were critical in helping to direct our design efforts in areas where we could make the most significant changes where needed while maintaining the perspective of efficiency and affordability that makes the classrooms accessible to schools with real and challenging budget issues. They, as part of the industry, are also interested in moving toward greener and healthier spaces but are often required to respond to extremely tight budgets that lead to cheaper quality solutions. As a result, Blazer was very supportive and engaged in the entire process.
Q. What type of local support have you received in your efforts to reestablish a baseline requirement for what a healthy portable classroom should look like for schools?
In efforts to reestablish this baseline, we found that we had an abundant group of local individuals and organizations with the same concerns and willing to donate their time and expertise, including the Governor’s office. With Governor Kitzhaber’s support through the Oregon Solutions Process, we were able to bring together all the various stakeholders that could make this process move forward. The group included various departments from Portland State University, state and local code officials, green building and energy conservation groups, school districts and a host of green building design engineers and designers. It was a true collaboration and we feel that this classroom is really a home grown solution, but also one that can resonate with all areas of the country.
Q. How did you determine which color and materials were most appropriate for the SAGE portable classroom?
Each school will be able to choose their own colors, but our prototype is a bright yellow – our way of saying look at this sunny, light-filled and fresh new idea for schools! The materials were all chosen with the health of students in mind. As small active bodies, students are more vulnerable to the toxins contained in a host of common building products. A number of companies have stepped up and offered to include their greenest products in our classrooms at affordable costs allowing us to pass the savings on to the schools when they buy the classroom. The interiors include bio-based flooring tiles, cork pin up walls, sheetrock walls, and no-VOC paints. The exteriors have robust cement siding and aluminum windows. There are no vinyl-based products in the classroom.
Q. Have you had the chance to see what students and teachers think of the SAGE classroom?
When the prototype was showcased at the Greenbuild conference in San Francisco, we had a number of teachers and school groups come through. There were a lot of questions and excitement about the classrooms as it’s clear the minute you step inside that it feels very different from the norm, especially in California where one-third of all students learn in a modular classroom. And this fall, with 12 of our classrooms being placed in schools throughout Washington and Oregon, we will really have a chance to see how teachers and students will feel about it. In fact we will be monitoring the classrooms for performance as well as for user comfort so we can continue to make them better in the future.
Q. As a husband and wife team, can you share with us some insights on what it’s like to work together on longer-term creative projects? What advantages and disadvantages are there to this type of creative partnership?
Certainly, there are times when we feel as though we just need some time apart, as any couple does, particularly when living and working together. However, having worked together as long as we have, we are aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and are pretty good at gauging where we each contribute. The fact we have similar interests and sensibilities when it comes to design makes our discussions productive. Additionally, the fact that we both feel passionately about a project, like we do about the SAGE classroom, means that there is always someone around who doesn’t mind talking about it endlessly.