UrbaRn: Modular Classroom


We have all heard the saying “We are what we eat.” Another idea that is just as true is, “We are what we grow.” With this in mind, a groundbreaking collaborative involving educators, students, local farmers and local professionals is working together to create an urban farm on an abandoned brownfield site on the near north side of Indianapolis. The “Farm Project” is intended serve as a model for developing partnerships between schools and urban farmers in every Indianapolis neighborhood.

Ecomod 1

Ecomod 1

The Farm Project brings together business, school and community around the concept of reclaiming impacted urban space and turning it into a working farm and urban green space. The one-acre organic farm will consist of a half-acre of growing plots and raised beds, a chicken coop, bee hives and meeting and work space. The farm will not only provide students and community residents with nutritious meals, but will also get them connected to their food and introduce the various user groups to models of sustainable agriculture and healthy and sustainable lifestyles.


The “urbaRn” is the first completed component of the Farm Project. In addition to providing useful facilities for the Farm, the urbaRn extends the discussion of sustainability to the built environment, using re-purposed shipping containers to provide classroom/meeting/lab facilities for the Farm and incorporating a number of sustainable strategies. Educational materials explaining these features will be made available to the different user groups and incorporated into the school curriculum.

First, the shipping containers chosen for use were at the end of their useful life as shipping containers, and have been “re-purposed” and extensively modified for use at the Urban Farm. The choice of containers also facilitated the staging of the project which was fabricated largely off-site and then delivered to the Farm. Modifications included creating large openings, sliding doors created from the material which was removed, minimizing waste, cost and maximizing efficiency.

Second, salvaged and re-purposed materials were used throughout the project. The interior fit out and a series of six “farm tables” were constructed out of salvaged ceiling joists from a demolished building nearby; waste stream resources diverted from the landfill and repurposed and reinvested with new life. Triple glazed fritted skylights were salvaged from a local jobsite and incorporated to create openings in the container walls.

A third strategy involved using a digital mill to maximize material efficiency and minimize waste. Eighteen chairs were produced for the project incorporating a nesting program that allowed four chairs to be milled from one sheet of 4x8 sheet goods. The chairs were designed to scissor together with very tight tolerances, largely eliminating the need for adhesives. The chairs demonstrate an approach to sustainable design through extreme efficiency.