Seeing Green at the Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Science and Industry

So, last weekend my husband, two grown daughters and I settled comfortably into our daughter’s Toyota Corolla (the greenest car among us as present) and motored down to Chicago to refill our  spiritual cisterns from the wealth of cultural treasure only a city can amass and to check out some urban “greenery.”

We renewed our membership to the Art Institute of Chicago, and checked out its new addition, which has many green components.

All around the institute you can find native plants in the landscape.

All around the institute you can find native plants in the landscape.

The Institute touts on its own website the new  “flying carpet” sunshade which filters daylight into the upper-level gallery spaces.  It’s interesting to read about it after experiencing it.  I wasn’t aware of the details then, but we all commented on the soft and changing light by which we were viewing Picasso.  The dynamic created by natural light, and the comfort of knowing there was an effort in place to conserve energy somehow did make the modern art more meaningful.

Using Price Line (thanks for destroying my original Star Trek images, William Shatner)  we retired to rooms on the 26th floor with wall-sized windows looked down onto the Chicago River.  And just before midnight, through those slightly unsettling windows, we happened to spy what seemed to be an endless stream of kayaks paddling inland past us.  I couldn’t have been more thrilled to sight a Great Blue Heron in such an incongruous setting.

Sunday we were waiting in line for the Museum of Science and Industry to open its doors.  Where else to learn about what science and industry are doing to save the planet? I’ve been in this building countless times — as a child, as a parent and as a freelancer on assignment, and I always leave with a headache from the cacophony created by this random assortment of exhibits, some delightful and some disturbing.

Sunday was no exception,  but what I was eager to see this time was its exhibit called Smart Home: Green + Wired, which is an actual home that they build next to the museum.  (Learn more here.)

An actual demo home built on the museum grounds!

An actual demo home built on the museum grounds!

This struck me as one of the best uses the Museum of Science and Industry is making of its facility. They bill it as Chicago’s greenest home.  As a person planning to build in 2012, I am always looking for more ways to make my own home green, and I’m not sure I learned anything I hadn’t found in some other source here, but it was intriguing to see everything up and running.

The architect Michelle Kaufmann focused on 5 eco principals.

1.  Smart Design

Using only what’s needed while creating a feeling of spaciousness within its cozy connectedness.  I think that as well as all the cool smart technology that tracks and conserves resource use, a green home has got to help connect its inhabitants to the world outside and to each other.  Living in a home like this could meet both those demands.

2.   Material Efficiency

There are many roads to this goal, and it seems Kaufmann used some good ones for the needs of this project. —  preconstructed modules and carefully chosen materials.  My own architect will use the same strategy but to a very different affect.  Check it out here.

3.  High Energy Efficiency

One of my favorite aspects of this was the ability to monitor energy usage throughout the house.  If we could all see how much energy we were using to leave the TV running in another room, or with that  outdated refrigeratorin the basement, or what difference it makes to dial the thermostat down a degree or two – and then compare our own use with our neighbors what a revelation that would be.  Easy access to that knowledge would raise conservation consciousness like nothing else has.  And it is coming.  I’ll be posting about this soon.

4.  Water Efficiency

This house had some great display of dual-flush toilets and using rain water and gray water.

5.  Healthy Environment

A good review of what’s out there in the way of non-toxic materials these days.  I liked the use of native plants in the landscaping in the middle of an urban environment to keep in contact with our friends, the Plant Kingdom.  I especially loved the container kitchen garden on the marble museum step in this houses’ back yard.

Making the best use of sunny steps.

Making the best use of sunny steps.

This is putting the vast resources of the Museum of Science and Industry to good use.  Our guide was paying particular attention to the questions of the children on the tour.  Great call.

Hopefully the constant stream of people, young and old, through this exhibit are walking away with ideas that will steadily trickle into broader and broader use.  We really don’t have a lot more time to squander costly housing resources in our current mindless and extravagant ways.

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3 replies

    • Thanks for the guidance! I lived in the northern suburbs of Chicago for 12 years, and when (about 5 years ago) I was able to move back to Wisconsin, it took me a long time to stick my toes back into the dense pack, but I’ve been down twice this summer and each time come back with a head swimming with images and ideas. So now I feel like I can establish a more balanced relationship with this amazing resource. My husband and I are aiming for producing at least as much energy as we use when we build, so I will definitely try to visit and learn from Michael Yannel.

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