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Chicago Museum of Science and Industry Smart Home

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Eliminates potable water usage for the production garden by using captured rainwater from rooftops and adjacent museum walkway canopies. If the Smart Home was in use as an actual home, it could make use of all of the harvested rainwater, saving 68,000 gallons of potable water and an estimated $2,250 in water and sewer costs over the next 5 years.
  • Captures and infiltrates over 208,000 gallons of stormwater on-site through a permeable pavement system, bioswale and raingarden, thereby preventing this volume from entering the municipal combined-sewer system.
  • Eliminates the need for soil amendments for the native and vegetable gardens by composting waste from the gardens and yard on site.


  • Provided a hands-on educational experience for 450,000 people during the 2008-2012 series of the Smart Home and Garden exhibit.
  • Provides a venue for educational programming for children that focuses on healthy eating, the importance of biodiversity, and the cycle of gardening-harvesting-composting, such as the 2009 Bret-Harte program for 25 local Chicago elementary students.
  • Produces an estimated 300 lbs of honey and more than 350 lbs of vegetables and herbs annually (which alone is valued at over $750).


  • Provided a training and volunteer opportunity for 40-50 Master Gardeners annually, who, between 2008-2010, contributed over 5,500 hours, which is valued at over $119,000.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Jacobs/Ryan Associates

  • Project Type

    Museum/Cultural center
    Single-family residence
    Stream restoration

  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    5700 S Lake Shore Drive
    Chicago, Illinois 60637
    Map it

  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    33,200 sf

  • Budget

    $171,000 (plus donated materials)

  • Completion Date


The only one of its kind nationally, the Smart Home is an exhibit and model home demonstrating integrated, sustainable living through every-day applications of green technology. The home is located on the grounds of the historic Museum of Science and Industry Campus in Chicago, the location of the 1893 World’s Exposition that showcased ideas for the future of the city. The Smart Home carries on this legacy as the Museum’s “home of the future”, promoting new sustainable practices and contemporary design. The exhibit features a pre-built sustainable modular house  within an ecologically functional landscape of stormwater and rainwater management systems, fruit and vegetable gardens, native plant habitats, and an energy producing green roof. Intended as a one-year display, the exhibit has continued due to its popularity, receiving updates in green technology and ecological practices every year.


As a museum exhibit, the Smart Home needed to maximize opportunities to educate visitors about the sustainable home and landscape. The landscape needed to demonstrate ecological design ideas and performance, and to integrate the design with building systems. These diverse aspects of sustainability, which often take years to establish within a landscape, needed to be visible and teachable within the planned one-year timeframe of the exhibit.


To meet the challenge of the short time frame, the landscape architect densified plantings and displays in order to visually communicate the full intentions of the landscape. The most significant “day-one” impact was achieved by the strategic siting of the house to preserve the mature bur oak grove and to give an immediate overall spatial relationship between the house and garden. The landscape architect then developed depressed water gardens and raised growing areas tightly organized around the house, to take advantage of microclimates and to bring the visitors through a condensed experience. Within just a few years, the landscape has filled-in dramatically and demonstrated a mature garden even within a few years of its initial implementation. The extended life of the exhibit and the further programming and development of the site have layered additional experiences and displays throughout the Smart Home exhibit.

  • Mature oak trees on-site create an oak savanna landscape, an ecosystem found throughout northern Illinois. The architect designed the pre-fabricated Smart Home so that the tree canopy is directly adjacent to the roof deck, which provides a unique view into the canopy from the roof deck as well as shading the ground-level patio.
  • The native garden of oak savannah and both wet and dry prairies, contains over 50 species of tree, shrub, and groundcover plants that are climate-adaptive, need minimal weeding and irrigation, and increase water absorption and infiltration through extensive root systems. Grasses and forbs were planted from both seed and plugs in carefully composed mixes to create the savannah and prairie.
  • Over 60 varieties of cool season and warm season vegetables and herbs are planted each year in raised planters, containers, and espaliered walls in the food production gardens.
  • All yard and garden waste is composted and used as soil conditioner on-site, which also removes the need to amend soil on a yearly basis.
  • A 2,500-gallon cistern collects rainwater from the pedestrian roof linking the museum to the Henry Crown Space Center. The collected water is used for irrigating the Smart Home gardens.
  • Four (4) sixty-gallon rain barrels are attached to the downspouts of the Smart Home, which collect water for further irrigation use.
  • A 1,742-sf bioswale and raingarden, wrapping around the southern edge of the Smart Home, uses bio-infiltration soil and native vegetation to convey, collect, and filter stormwater for a 4,480-sf catchment area.
  • The “driveway” for the home and garden exhibit consists of 4,800 sf of permeable pavement, which allows direct stormwater infiltration and decreases the need for deicers in the winter.
  • The extensive green roofs, totaling 861 sf, feature a variety of sedums and accent plants (such as alliums), which provides a visual amenity on the roof deck.
  • The vertical growing walls feature systems that utilize growing media as part of the Smart Home exterior wall, maximizing the space for growing vegetation in an urban environment.
  • All of the sustainable systems and practices at the Smart Home are communicated to visitors through signage and docent-led tours. Visitors receive comprehensive education about sustainable living by being able to see individual practices and products in a domestic setting, functioning together as a unit.
  • The Smart Home is augmented yearly, receiving updates in technology, décor, and plantings, to give  visitors a new, educational experience during each subsequent visit. By 2012, all the features described above were present at the Smart Home Exhibit.
  • Materials for the updated exhibit are donated by vendors. A yearly Resource Guide published by the Museum lists the vendors, their products and their benefits, also serving as an advertising tool for those donating.

The Museum initially planned to pay for the Smart Home by selling it for $500,000, which would retroactively pay for the anticipated overall cost for the project. In an effort to reduce the initial expenditure and reliance upon the eventual sale of the home, the design and construction team solicited vendors to donate materials, making the case to vendors that their products would be on display in the exhibit. The campaign was so successful that it allowed the Smart Home to be 100% funded on its opening day, supported by a mix of donations, donated products and pro-bono services. Ultimately, the Museum spent only $171,000 of the original budget on labor, and this spirit and practice of volunteer contributions continued with each successive yearly display. The benefit has worked in both directions; most of the materials and technological products donated by vendors have used the exhibit as a marketing tool to grow their businesses.

  • Situated in the east courtyard of the Museum of Science and Industry, the Smart Home was initially placed in the center of the courtyard, in keeping with the Beaux Arts-style Museum. The landscape architect successfully argued to move the Smart Home off-center to preserve an existing stand of bur oaks, some of which predate the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The preservation of the oaks and the resulting spatial relationship between the house and the mature grove are one of the most-often remarked aspects of the project, highlighting the aesthetic and experiential relationships between house and site.
  • The Smart Home Exhibit was originally envisioned and planned for a one-year display. However, due to its popularity, the Smart Home stayed open for five successive years. The ability to see sustainable systems working together in a domestic setting, and to interact with these systems, has become a powerful and unique learning tool. The attraction of seeing a “home of the future” pulls visitors to the site, even with the extra fee to see the Exhibit. In keeping with the Museum’s interest to continue enhancing the programming of the Smart Home, the Museum temporarily closed the Smart Home for the 2013 season, and is currently in the process of expanding the focus and scope of the site and exhibit for a future re-opening in 2014.
  • A microburst uprooted one of the older bur oaks in 2009, and while the uprooted tree was awaiting removal, Master Gardeners used it to teach school groups about tree rings and growth. After removal, a local vendor used the wood from the tree to create a dining table, bench, and headboard—all of which were exhibited in the Smart Home. The stewardship of the site demonstrates ongoing capacity to teach lessons in sustainability in keeping with its mission of education and a “living museum”.

Project Team

Client: The Museum of Science and Industry
Landscape Architect
: Jacobs/Ryan Associates
Design Collaboration
: University of Illinois
Extension Architect
: Michelle Kaufmann Studio
Structural Engineer
: Tylk Gustafson Reckers Wilson Andrews, LLC
Civil Engineer
: Eriksson Engineering Associates, LTD
General Contractor
: Norgon
Landscape Contractor
: Christy Webber, Clauss Bros

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect initiated the project through an intensified design installation to meet the initial 2008 one-year project time-frame. Once the Smart Home exhibit was renewed for ongoing display at the museum, the landscape architect continued to add to the programming and development of the landscape, integrating several landscape types throughout the site to demonstrate a variety of integrated garden and water management strategies. The landscape architect’s work also involved coordinating the addition of vegetable growing and replacement of trees, and planning for further programming and design opportunities along the perimeter extents of the site.


Soil creation, preservation & restoration, Stormwater management, Water conservation, Educational value, Bioretention, Educational signage, Food garden, Green roof, Green wall, Permeable paving, Rainwater harvesting, Trees, Learning landscapes

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