The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry recently re-opened their green-home showcase, Smart Home: Green + Wired. The exhibit consists of a three-story modular home designed by Michelle Kaufmann Design, furnished by regional designers and full of eco-friendly technologies compliments of WIRED magazine.
I've visited the Smart Home twice now - once during it's original opening last fall, and most recently for its new opening. While the design and technology of the home are impressive, my main interest in returning to the exhibit was to see firsthand how this building had held up during the harsh and unforgiving Chicago winters. Michelle Kaufmann's modular homes are available only in California, a state with weather radically different than northern Illinois. I've seen very little new residential construction in Chicago that involves sustainable materials and my concern was that while eco-friendly, the external cladding of the Smart Home might not look so hot after a winter of wildly varying temperatures, heavy snow, ice and wind.
The exhibit has held up quite nicely, and our winter has indeed been harsh. The museum has not had to replace elements of or perform major cleaning to any parts of the building's exterior, which is a combination of wood siding and cement panels. I'm used to seeing cement panels turn dingy and in some cases warp, but these still look good.
Chicago is hardly a bastion of pre-fab construction, and I can count the number of new "green" residences I've seen built over my six years living on the North Side on one hand. It would certainly be nice to see more of both. Hopefully some architects and builders will take some cues from the Smart Home exhibit.