At Home in the Future: An Urban Warehouse Renovation

As two Chicago Art Institute professors create a living art project in an abandoned warehouse—a home much greater than the sum of its parts—they’ve collected a “complete set” of alternative energy technologies.

| May/June 2010

Frances Whitehead and Jim Elniski’s revamped warehouse home in Chicago houses an array of art and artifacts from around the world and is also a contemporary artist’s studio. Part Swiss Family Robinson tree house, part greenhouse and garden, the home integrates nearly every type of alternative energy technology available—thanks to a concept Frances coins “radical multifunctionality,” the ability to solve more than one problem at a time.

Living in a Rubik’s cube 

Jim considers their home “a moving Rubik’s cube” because the spaces constantly change their relationship to each other. Inside the simple square building, rooms shift in and out of each other and around a central interior courtyard. Above the front living area, a single bedroom and half bath float on a mezzanine. At the home’s core, an outdoor courtyard spills light into a hallway leading to the ground-floor studio. From Frances’ cool, concrete-floored workshop, a winding metal staircase leads upstairs to a small guest bedroom. Outside is a greenhouse, and beyond it an extensive roof garden surrounding sleek solar panels. An outdoor boardwalk overlooks the courtyard below and connects to Jim’s bright, airy studio. Above, sculptural wind turbines rise from the green roof.

“Once we figured out that there was going to be this circulation, we also became conscious of designing different climatic experiences, different light and space experiences,” Frances says. “Downstairs, it’s sonorous and private, cool and moist. Upstairs in summer, it’s sunny and bright. It’s like a trip to the Mediterranean. There are tomatoes and cacti, and it’s sunny and hot and windswept.”

Capturing the sun 

One of Frances and Jim’s motives for renovating a decades-old warehouse is to show that, with a little imagination, abandoned city buildings can be reused. In a neighborhood sitting between industrial and residential areas, their home demonstrates the elegance of reuse, the power of good design and the promise of new energy technology.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: August 4-5, 2018
Albany, OR

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!


Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds

Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265