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A Smart Home Adventure
Exploring the MSI’s interactive green exhibit, reintroduced for 2012


Since 2008, the Museum of Science and Industry’s Smart Home: Green + Wired exhibit has integrated environmentally friendly products and ideas into a model for sustainability. It is an engaging and interactive exhibit, and one could imagine that an evening spent at the museum, with a friend, might go something like this. Welcome to the imaginative world of the 2012 Smart Home:

It was a beautiful evening, the kind that couldn’t be captured with a photograph. A gentle, fragrant breeze rustled through the trees and caught a stray lock of Kate’s hair, settling it against her cheek.

Her friend Joanna lounged with her, admiring how the setting sun lit the leaves of the trees on fire and made the clouds glow pink and orange and yellow. The last two hours of Chicago traffic faded into a distant memory in this quiet oasis where the Smart Home lived, its wooden panels and recycled composite walls in complete, unexpected harmony with the landscape and the Beaux-Art style of the Museum of Science Industry enveloping it.

“Well, shall we?” Joanna’s voice hung in the air. Kate nodded as she pushed herself to her feet.

“Yep. Let’s go explore.”

The two friends wound their way up to the entrance of the Smart Home and took their first tentative steps inside. Entering the living room, their initial hesitancy dissolved, and they exclaimed together, “Hey, that’s Caress!” and, “How cool in that!”

Kate ran a hand along the top of one of the four Corliss chairs that were, indeed, upholstered in Brentano’s most durable faux leather. In what has become a tradition of sorts, Caress, a Brentano Green textile, was featured in the 2012 design for the Smart Home, one of the greenest homes in Chicago.

Joanna had woven her way through the chairs and coffee table and was admiring the set of library card file drawers that ran the length of the wall. Like other furnishings throughout the home, the drawers had been reclaimed and refurbished by Larry Vodak, the owner of Scout, a Chicago store specializing in re-use, and the designer behind the look and feel of the interior.

They worked their way through the space, opening doors and drawers, touching new materials, and making themselves at home. On the third floor, they ran into a dead end, the only option to exit to the roof deck.

Smart air circulation within the house had kept the interior cool, but outside, the evening was still warm. Pleasantly so. The sun had begun to set, creating interesting shadows on the ground below.

The deck would have been spacious, but they had to share the space. Growing out of the middle was a giant hydroponic system spilling lettuces, kale, and parsley. Joanna squeezed around to its opposite side, and her jaw hit the floor when she saw the size of the strawberries under the leaves.

Already distracted, Kate was leaning over the railing to examine the grounds below. “Oh look, they have their own wind turbine! And, no way! Check out those little white boxes; they must have bees.”

With that, their next destination was set, and they made their way back down the stairs and through the garage, stopping along the way to examine the solar oven stored there and the spectrum of waste bins against one wall—Paper? Plastic? Compost?

Outside again, they tiptoed up to the bees and would have stopped at a safe distance if Joanna hadn’t wanted to take a picture so badly.

“No, no, you have to get closer. Get up on the platform.” Kate didn’t show any signs of moving, though, so Joanna compromised, “I guess one foot’s enough. One … two … three.” Snap.

Good, that’s done, Kate thought. Feigning calm, she took several large, quick steps away from the hives before slowing down to match Joanna’s leisurely pace. They strolled together back up to the deck in the front of the Smart Home and relaxed onto opposite ends of an L-shaped sofa.

With a contented sign, Joanna said, “This is the perfect spot for a picnic.”

They listened to the trees for a moment.

“But you know what’s missing?” She continued. “Wouldn’t Zinnia look great on these cushions?”

Both laughed, enjoying the moment and their glimpse of the green life.

About the Smart Home
The fully-functioning modular Smart Home—conceived by the Museum of Science and Industry, designed by architect Michelle Kaufmann Designs and built by All American Homes® of Decatur, Ind.—was opened to the public in May 2008 and due to its popularity was redesigned every year since. It has been declared one of Chicago’s greenest homes after a comprehensive review of the home’s plans, materials and design by the City of Chicago’s Chicago Green Homes Program. Since its opening, the Museum has welcomed more than 300,000 guests on 20-minute guided tours that showcase the ways, big and small, that people can make eco-friendly living a part of their lives. Some of the green features that remain year to year include rooftop solar film, a wind turbine, and an interior that has been designed to maximize light and space.

Smart Home: Green + Wired is a must-see exhibit for anyone who wants their home, and life, to be smarter, more efficient and more in tune with the environment than it is today. This exhibit is not included in general admission and requires an additional timed-entry ticket. Tour times vary and are subject to change.   The tickets, which include general Museum admission, are $23 for adults, $22 for seniors and $12 for children 3-11. City of Chicago residents receive a discount. Please visit msichicago.org for more information on schedules and to purchase tickets in advance.

Smart Home: Green + Wired is proudly sponsored by ComEd and Allstate Insurance Company.

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