by sarah leavitt, curator

For over a decade, the National Building Museum has prioritized the theme of sustainability when exploring the built environment, beginning with the exhibition Big and Green (2003) and continuing with The Green House: New Directions in Sustainable Architecture and Design (2006) and Green Community (2008). The latest exhibition in this series, Green Schools, asks visitors to reflect on the fact that 60 million people—adults and children—spend their days in K-12 school buildings in the United States. What are we doing to make sure those buildings are healthy and safe?

Green Schools consists of two parts: the first, inside the Museum, tells the stories of 40 schools across the nation, each working to green the classrooms, landscapes, and curricula for their students. The second part is outside on the West Lawn where visitors can experience a green, modular classroom prototype and see some of these cutting-edge sustainability ideas in action.

The Green Schools stories cover both public and private schools, from elementary to high school, looking at projects both large—gymnasium skylights, water filtration systems, and school farms—and small, like playground slides made from recycled plastic, green-certified cleaning solutions, and worm composting. Touchable wall sections show the difference between typical and green modular classroom construction, from the foundation to the insulation and rain water systems. A display room gives visitors a chance to see some products and materials used in green schools, such as recycled carpeting, a tinted window, and a waterless urinal.

Outside, the Sprout Space classroom provides visitors with an idea of the future of green modular classrooms. With its green roof, water cistern, garden, and flexible classroom space, the classroom has been a wonderful walk-through example of the possibilities of green design. Students from the Museum’s award-winning educational programs use the classroom every day during the school year.

$ saved each year by students who pack a waste-free lunch.




$ saved on average by green schools each year. Enough to hire at least one new teacher, buy 200 new computers, or purchase 5,000 textbooks.





Green Schools is generously sponsored by Perkins+Will; Triumph Modular; Whole Foods Market; Satellite Shelters, Inc.; The Tower Companies; Forbo Flooring Systems; The Kendeda Fund; Multivista Construction Documentation; Interface, Inc.; McGraw-Hill Construction; Nixon Peabody LLP; The Sherwin-Williams Company; Gilbane Building Company; Perkins Eastman; Modular Building Institute; Waterless Co.; Hord Coplan Macht; Kramer Consulting Services, PC; and Quinn Evans Architects. McGraw-Hill Construction is the official media partner of Green Schools.

Generous in-kind contributions to the exhibition have been provided by Modular Air, Inc; Mark Line Industries, Inc.; School Specialty, Inc.; Multivista Construction Documentation; Bison Innovative Products; Kawneer Company, Inc.; Modular Genius, Inc.; MooreCo, Inc. DBA Best-Rite and Balt; AGC Flat Glass North America; Hord Coplan Macht; LG Electronics USA, Inc.; Forbo Flooring Systems; Acuity Brands, Inc; Bretford; Smith Systems™; Riverbend Nursery, Inc.; TOTO USA; The Sherwin-Williams Company; Interface, Inc.; SAGE Electrochromics, Inc.; Diversified Educational Systems Inc.; Waterless Co.; Excel Dryer, Inc.; Advanced Solar Technologies; and Solatube International, Inc.

Images: Top: Photo by Anne McDonough. Bottom: Photo by Museum staff.