I remember when my college installed some “temporary” portable classrooms while they finished a new building. They looked like beige containers with tiny windows, which felt like fridges in winter and saunas in summer. And they kept them for years after the building was finished. That’s why, when I look at the beautiful Bard University’s Media Lab, my heart gently weeps.
Designed by MB Architecture–an architectural firm based in New York–the 960-square-foot media lab is made up of four recycled shipping containers. It follows the overall design as the company’s Container Studio and Insta House. They ideated this architectural system as “an exploration of very affordable single-family homes and workspaces” nine years ago, building the first prototype in 2009.
The containers that form the Bard Media Lab–which serves the university’s Experimental Humanities Department–were retrofitted and completely pre-finished by an outside contractor following MB Architecture’s specs. They applied closed-cell foam for insulation, cut holes and installed double-pane windows, then added all the interior walls, carpentry, cabinetry, electric installations, plumbing, and floors. Finally, the exterior was refinished.
Then, a company transported the modules to the previously prepared site–a building foundation with all the necessary electric and plumbing connectors. According to the architects, “the installation started at 11 a.m. and by 3 p.m. the second floor was stacked and [they] were walking inside the building.” The contractor used a couple more days to add the finishing touches and connect the electrical and plumbing lines to the site’s utilities. A few weeks later, the building was fully operational.
The space includes floor-to-ceiling windows, air-conditioning, and a large garage door that can be opened with two purposes: for students to enjoy some fresh air or to use as an open-air stage. According to the firm, the entire thing had a total cost of slightly over $200,000–which includes the $135,000 price tag for the base system and all the costs of all the extra modifications needed for the Media Lab.
Perhaps other schools can take note of this inexpensive system for easy, low-cost expansion. In fact, it looks much better than most brick-and-mortar schools I’ve seen.