2009 Awards of Excellence: Gary Comer

gcomer sr 1
additional photo credit:
Steve Hall@Hedrich Blessing
(may be reproduced for journalistic use only)

Intensive Institutional

Chicago’s visionary Gary Comer Youth Center is a magnificent example of a safe, inspiring and beautiful education space.

Project: Gary Comer Youth Center, Chicago, Illinois
Award Recipient: John Ronan Architect
Landscape Architects: Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects
Garden Manager: Gary Comer Youth Center Firm
Structural Engineer: ARUP


Green roof components and membrane supplied by:
American Hydrotech, Inc.

The Gary Comer Youth Center is a shining new youth center located in one of Chicago’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. It provides a constructive environment for area youths ages eight to 18 to spend their hours away from school. Educational and recreational programs focus on health and nutrition, performing arts, technology, physical fitness, civic engagement and leadership development.
A central element of the center is its green roof: located over the gymnasium and cafeteria and encircled by the broad windows of the third floor, this courtyard garden provides students who have little access to safe outdoor space the opportunity to interact with the natural world freely. Covering 8,160-square-feet with a growing media depth of 18 to 24 inches, the garden is a safe, inspiring and beautiful education space.

gcomer sr 2
additional photo credit:
Steve Hall@Hedrich Blessing
(may be reproduced for journalistic use only)
Poverty, and the lack of access to fresh foods it all-too-often results in, creates an education gap when it comes to knowing about food and how it comes to the table.
This green roof’s 24-inch growing media depth enables children and teens alike to plant and harvest vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs and grasses as part of a comprehensive educational program developed by the center’s garden manager. As kids learn about the seed-to-harvest cycle, they also learn about environmental issues, the green roof, botany, cooking, and the processes of nurturing growth in a garden. The garden collects rainwater, and serves to reduce the urban heat island effect in a way that simultaneously reinforces the educational mission of the youth center.
Our judges admired the Center’s mission and focus on education. They were also quick to recognize that the Center was an excellent piece of design work, in and of itself – never being forced to sacrifice aesthetics for functionality. The center is not only practical and accessible, it is also elegant and attractive – a superlative example of an institutional application for an intensive green roof.
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