photo courtesy of Brian Jones
Guest reviewer Brian W. Jones is a designer, photographer, and cultural observer who recently "relocated to Chicago just in time for the longest winter of his life." More on Brian in TreeHugger here.
A few weeks ago, the Smart Home: Green + Wired exhibit opened at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. The exhibit is a pre-fab modular home, designed by Michelle Kaufmann Designs (MKD), and its surrounding landscape, designed by Jacobs/Ryan Associates. The Smart Home has been outfitted with some of the most sustainable and responsible options available for building and furnishing a house, while the landscaping illustrates many ways to sustain and replenish the surrounding environments we live in. It's really spectacular to see the museum's courtyard transformed in this way.
all other photos John Swain courtesy of Michelle Kaufmann
The design, construction and day-to-day operation of the Smart Home rest upon five principles: smart design, material efficiency, energy efficiency, water efficiency, and healthy environment. There is such a long list of features, materials and gadgets that I can't list them all. There is a really nice resource guide that you can download (PDF here) that goes into much more detail. Some of my favorites were the LED lighting used throughout the home, motion sensors, radiant floor heating, solar film on the roof (that produced a surplus of energy) and a generator hooked up to a bicycle in the kids room that needed to be ridden 30 minutes in order to power 20 minutes of TV watching.
When I arrived at my scheduled time, I was placed in a group of 15 people and led on a guided tour through the home. During the tour, our guide asked questions testing our knowledge about specific terms and why we thought certain things were designed as they were. Our guide was as entertaining as the exhibit was educational. However, as beautiful as the home was and as excited as I was to finally experience a pre-fab home outside the pages of Dwell magazine, the most enlightening aspect of the tour came from being placed in a group of "average people" as they interacted with a sustainable home.
As a treehugger, there are a lot of things that I presumptuously assume is common knowledge about green living. I thought with all of the "green products" being marketed and "green knowledge" being thrown around (in what seems like every periodical and news article being written) there would be some level of absorption. The problem is, there isn't really much knowledge being shared. The greenwashers don't want us to learn what's green and what isn't or they'll be revealed for what they truly are.
In our group of 15 people—most ranged from 35—55 years old—I was the only one who new what VOCs stood for and what they were. Ok, maybe that's not something I should expect everyone to know, I'll let that slide. But next we were asked what we thought the blanket on the bed was made from, and after everyone felt it, organic cotton was the primary guess. When our guide revealed that it was bamboo, half of the faces in the room lit up at learning bamboo could not only be used for hardwood flooring and cabinets, but also woven into a soft blanket.
As I watched the room share in this eureka moment I understood the real reason for the Smart Home exhibit. This wasn't built for treehuggers like myself to geek-out about the recycled glass bathroom tiles or smile at the sight of a Strida bike hanging in the garage (although it did serve those purposes well). The Smart Home was built to enlighten all of those "average people" who have become the new target in a growing assault of "green" marketing and to educating them in the many ways that they can improve their lives while lowering their impact on our planet.
Let's hope it reaches as many people as possible. ::Museum of Science and Industry