Each day administrators in school systems across the United States face the challenge of providing classroom space that will meet the needs of growing student populations. It is often difficult to predict when a particular school will outgrow its available facility.

To meet the demand for classroom space, many school systems have turned to “temporary” trailer-style classrooms. These classrooms were initially intended as a short-term solution to the problem of overcrowding, but many stay on the same site for years. In 2003, one school system reports that nearly 48% of its mobile units were more than 30 years old. The lifespan of a mobile classroom and the excessive maintenance needed over long periods of time become an issue for school systems. 

The mobile trailer-style classroom may seem to have an advantage due to its initial cost and ease at expanding classroom space. Yet, there are several disadvantages. Most mobile classrooms are poorly designed and constructed. They lack sufficient windows for cross ventilation and natural daylight, and they are visually unappealing.  These deficiencies lend a negative image to any school.

Looking at the challenge and the facts, it became apparent that it was time to take the initiative to provide an alternative design that would provide quality classroom space with a positive civic identity for the next generation of the nation’s students.


The goal of the Learning Cottages initiative is to provide alternatives to mobile trailer-style classrooms and factory sized schools. They provide a fast and cost effective solution to the need for classroom construction. 

The Learning Cottages initiative realizes that goal by providing a building system which can accommodate increasing numbers of students, rapidly and economically, while looking as good as the best historic schools. The flexibility of the Learning Cottage allows it to be used for other purposes. In addition to classrooms, larger versions can provide space for school administration offices, cafeterias, or media centers.

The Learning Cottages (LC) initiative is leading an effort to provide an alternative to mobile trailer-style classrooms. LC plans to establish a site on which to build prototypical permanent Learning Cottages using panelized construction techniques. Prototypes include traditional and contemporary architectural designs with three different elevations. The Learning Cottage prototypes should be established as a “School Innovations Square” or as the foundation for a new or expanding school.

The goal of the Learning Cottages initiative is to create an awareness of alternatives. Learning Cottages share some characteristics of construction with Katrina Cottages. These are small, easy-to-assemble dwellings invented as a temporary and long-term housing option for citizens affected by Hurricane Katrina and a substitute for FEMA trailers. Shown are seven examples of Katrina Cottages that have been constructed illustrating a variety of elevations (see appendix for resources).

The Learning Cottage designed by DPZ is adaptable to compliment the architecture of various regions. The three elevations shown offer different design alternatives for different regions and sites, which are further detailed later in this report.  The three cottages shown represent the Low-Country Coastal Learning Cottage, the Eastover Traditional Learning Cottage, and the National Moderne Learning Cottage. Each of these designs shares the same dimensions. Each cottage, however, is tailored to enhance the architectural context of different sites.



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Thomas E. Low