SWF Launches the ISEIF Smart Pod Project to Build a Living, Learning Smart Grid Laboratory

Photos by Jordan Campbell.

Photos by Jordan Campbell.

After a series of planning calls throughout this winter, the Smart Pod Project, officially launched in March with a full site visit and planning session between Sweet Water Foundation staff and project partner organizations including Chicago Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education (CPS CTE), CPS Chicago Builds, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Administrators and teachers representing a wide range of CTE and Chicago Build program areas, such as electricity, welding, general construction, and architecture, convened at Sweet Water Foundation’s Perry Ave Commons site for the inaugural meeting to discuss Chicago’s first Smart Pod. This exciting project was made possible with funding from the Illinois Science & Energy Innovation Foundation (ISEIF).



ISEIF engages Illinois energy consumers in understanding and transforming energy consumption. As Illinois moves toward smart grid technologies, ISEIF offers funding to organizations that engage communities in the digital electrical grid movement. In particular, ISEIF aims to empower low-income and senior consumers to adopt smart grid technologies and make positive behavioral changes related to patterns of energy use. SWF’s active practice of community engagement and experiential education made the Smart Pod project an ideal candidate for ISEIF funding so that the 1000’s of local residents and guests that visit the Perry Ave Commons each year can learn how they might adopt smart grid technologies.


History of the Think-Do Pod

Once a shipping container that transported grape juice concentrate from Argentina, the Think-Do Pod now stands as a gallery, greenhouse, and learning laboratory. The concept of the Think-Do Pod was inspired by the conversion of a shipping container into a greenhouse in Belgium. In early 2017, the project was designed and built by Sweet Water Foundation staff and apprentices.

devontae think-do pod.jpg

The Think-Do Pod now consists of a lower-level gallery space and upper-level greenhouse. Together, these spaces have provided a learning laboratory from which Sweet Water Foundation provides educational programming and grows food. The Think-Do Pod is a physical manifestation of SWF’s practice of “turning waste into resources.”


From Think-Do Pod to Smart Pod

Plans to convert the Think-Do Pod into the Smart Pod have been developed with the help of Dr. Stephen Ervin, the Assistant Dean of IT at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and head of the Future Home: House Zero initiative, and inspired by Ben Uyeda’s Solar-Powered Workshop, which transformed a shed into a solar powered workshop. The Smart Pod will be an innovative learning laboratory that integrates smart grid and renewable energy technologies with education, art, agriculture, and design. The project will engage CPS high school students enrolled in both CPS architecture, electrical, carpentry, construction, and computer science programs in the design and build processes.


Once completed, the Smart Pod will demonstrate the possibility of an affordable and replicable learning laboratory that not only showcases smart energy technologies, but also grows food and directly addresses a range of emerging environmental problems related to food, soil, water, and energy. The Smart Pod will serve as the focal point for a series of community workshops on the Smart Grid and also reach thousands of visitors each year, including K-12 students, college students, local residents, and tourists.

The Smart Pod project marries SWF’s focus on innovative urban agriculture practices (hydroponics and aquaponics) to smart energy technologies as a demonstration of the many possibilities to address our energy and environmental challenges. As a featured attraction of SWF’s Perry Ave Commons site, the Smart Pod will serve as year-round resource on the smart grid, renewable energy, energy savings and conservation: a platform to deliver workshops to community members, professional development seminars to teachers, and interactive lessons to students. Most importantly, the Smart Pod will be a demonstration of a design and build project that other schools, institutions and organizations can implement to reach even more citizens across the state.


The entire Smart Pod project team is excited to begin development in the coming weeks, and is grateful to the Illinois Science and Energy Innovation Foundation for making the project possible. Stay tuned for the exciting development!

Jia Li Pratt