Smart Home: Green + Wired Debuts at MSI

Exterior_of_the_smart_home Exterior_of_the_smart_home_2

Architect Michelle Kaufmann has made a big splash in Chicago this week during the opening of her Smart Home: Green + Wired exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. The PrairieMod crew and myself were fortunate enough to be able to spend the past two days previewing the home and are excited to share some details with you. If you’re interested, feel free to check out our podcast interview with Michelle where she explains how the project came to be and the 5 eco-principles utilized by her firm.

The showcase "Smart Home" is Kaufmann’s mkSolaire plan, which is designed for a city lot and has a loft-like feeling to it. Its goal is to address the space challenges found with infill lots and standard row home configurations. The brilliant thing about this exhibit is that it is fully functional, not just a shadow of what the design could be. And in case you’re wondering, the house will be dismantled after the exhibit closes in January 2009.


There are a couple of wonderful things about what this exhibit is doing. For example, it is making this approach to design completely accessible to the typical citizen in a relevant manner. It isn’t just the stuff of highbrow design and shelter magazines. The Smart Home is absolutely real and is made for real people. It honestly inspires folks to see what can be accomplished with a thoughtful plan and current technology. Another exciting aspect is the fact that a prefab home can be built in the Midwest.  So many of us here in Chicago, see these designs being built predominantly on the West Coast and are left wondering….where are our prefab options?

It is important to mention some of the brilliant ideas that were incorporated into the design of this home. Even on a dark, rainy day, light and air were streaming into the living spaces because of a strategically planned design to reduce dependance on artificial light. Listed below is a rundown of items used:

  • Window walls which fold close to completely merge indoors with outdoors, solar shades that raise and lower with an automation system, a brilliant wood slatted door that slides over one of the window walls to allow air flow and security (inspired by the barns of Michelle Iowa youth).
  • Dual flush toilets, low flow faucets, leds lights and cfl bulbs, thin solar panels designed specifically for a climate like Chicago, and a green roof.
  • No VOC paints, certified Ipe wood, organic fabrics, tiles made from recycled chardonnay bottles and fly ash, recycled concrete countertops.
  • Vintage pieces of furniture, reupholstered sofas made from t-shirt material, interesting hanging lights filled with incandescent bulbs.
  •  Indoor/Outdoor spaces with nearly every room accessible to the outside. Gardens use of native plants, permeable pavers and rain gardens.
  • Water reclamation systems to collect and use grey water for the gardens.
  • Honestly, the list is endless! For full details download the official Exhibit Guide [pdf].

Bottom line, the sampling above shows a complete paradigm shift in how the average American home can and should be built. Frank Lloyd Wright tried his best in the early 1900’s with the American Systems Built Homes and again in the mid 1900’s with the Usonian house. Unfortunately, he was ahead of his time. The technology wasn’t there and the public didn’t understand the concept. That is why it is fascinating to see the ideas that so many designers like Wright pioneered are now being practically incorporated into 21st-century designs like the mkSolaire. All of the right circumstances are coalescing into an architectural revolution that will change the way we live at home in America.

Bryan Kelly is a co-founder and contributor to PrairieMod, a blog that is all about The Art of Living in the Modern World.

State_of_the_art_kitchen Desk_in_the_childrens_room

Photo Credits: MSI Chicago

Article tags:
  • Nivekian

    But why take it down?

  • Preston

    @Nivekian – I would imagine that it will find a new home somewhere else, as opposed to becoming the permanent property of MSI …

  • West Toronto realtor

    I`ve enjoyed this article, thanks for sharing with us! I`ve come across many similar projects but this is undoubtedly the most striking. We need innovative ideas to make people eager to remodel their home or just find some solutions to make their home more eco-friendly. As being a Toronto realtor I`m contented to see that this scheme is becoming a serious public issue and that finally we start to think about our responsibility regarding our environment.

  • elaine

    good job, preston. i always enjoy your posts. however, i noticed that you say this Smart Home shows that this is a real house designed for “real people.” although i am a big fan of pre-fab modern designs, i am not so sure that mkd’s designs are built affordably. i have been told that most of her pre-fabs are second homes for those who can afford such things… any idea about the costs of this Smart Home?

  • Preston

    @elaine – good question.

    I don’t want to put any words into our fantastic guest author’s mouth, but here’s a link to MKD’s info page on costs of the pre-designed prefabs (such as the mkSolaire).

    It’s possible that the “real” reference could be more to aesthetics than to cost. I admit, with costs of $200-$275 psf, we’re still out of the reach of “real” people, depending on this definition of real.

    However, this prefab certainly has a look that’s less edgy and industrial than some prefabs. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of them (even the more industrial designs), but MKD presents a home with less glass and more privacy. The design seems to be more in line with what most people expect in a home, as opposed to the pure modern or contemporary enthusiasts. Just thinking out loud, though.

  • jane

    does anyone know where this exhibit is going next?

  • Patricia Tavares

    Thanks for the extraordinary post. Not only for the notes, but also the links that complete all the information. Very interesting.

Popular Topics on Jetson Green