Launch Slideshow

Chicago Hope

Chicago Hope

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA3F7%2Etmp_tcm20-162426.jpg?width=300

    true

    300

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA3F8%2Etmp_tcm20-162431.jpg?width=480

    true

    480

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA3F9%2Etmp_tcm20-162437.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA3FE%2Etmp_tcm20-162472.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    The building's exterior consists of 8-footlong, glass fiber-reinforced concrete panels that bring color to an otherwise drab street.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA3FF%2Etmp_tcm20-162479.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    Three color sketches by the architect suggest how he put the building together. The top two show hallways, classrooms, and offices framing the gym/ auditorium and cafeteria.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA400%2Etmp_tcm20-162486.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    The bottom sketch is a study of the dance room, with a large window that juts over South Chicago Avenue.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA401%2Etmp_tcm20-162493.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    The cafeteria's glass interior wall allows views into the gym.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA402%2Etmp_tcm20-162500.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    A mechanical system converts the gym into an auditorium with tiered seating in about a minute.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA403%2Etmp_tcm20-162507.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    A mechanical system converts the gym into an auditorium with tiered seating in about a minute.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA404%2Etmp_tcm20-162514.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    A section view shows how the center's many components embrace and form the gym/auditorium space that is the heart of the building.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA405%2Etmp_tcm20-162521.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    A third-floor hallway looks onto the rooftop garden and the center's iconic tower. The garden has an in-ground irrigation system, and its 2-foot soil depth supports everything except large trees.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA3FA%2Etmp_tcm20-162444.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    Six circles that dot the third-floor plan are skylights, which bring natural light to the gym area below.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA3FB%2Etmp_tcm20-162451.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    Sunflowers, sweet potatoes, and a variety of herbs are among the flowers and produce grown in the rooftop garden. Produce is cooked in the center's kitchen.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA3FC%2Etmp_tcm20-162458.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

    Ronan's sketches show the rows of the garden, each one devoted to a different planting. The rows line up with the mullions of the glass wall of the third-floor hallway.

  • http://www.architectmagazine.com/Images/tmpA3FD%2Etmp_tcm20-162465.jpg

    true

    600

    Hedrich Blessing

  • 600

Ronan acted as both architect and traffic cop as he fielded requests from Comer, neighborhood residents, Revere students, the drill team, and the University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration, whose graduate interns do outreach work in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood youth, fearing drive-by shootings, wanted the center to be largely windowless. Comer wanted separate auditorium and gymnasium buildings—in brick. Robertson wanted office space that overlooked the drill floor.

Ronan responded with expanses of bulletproof glass and, instead of the brick that Comer urged, 8-foot-long color tiles made of glass fiber–reinforced concrete. In the end, Comer liked them so much that he asked that they be made brighter.

“I'd seen a [youth] center before, but I'd never seen one with a whole bunch of colors on the outside,” says Briana Jamison, 13, a flag girl for the drill team. “It was, like, ‘Come join.'”

Rather than build a separate gymnasium and auditorium, Ronan designed a single three-story-high convertible space. With the push of a few buttons, walls move, panels slide, and the gym becomes a theater: 640 padded seats slide out of a wall. (“I'd never seen anything like that,” Christopher Watkins, 12, marvels.)

The finished center also has classrooms, a recording studio, a conference space, a computer center, a dance studio, a homework help center, a weight room, and a comfortably furnished recreation area with pool and foosball tables. Orbiting the gym/theater, many of these rooms—including Robertson's office—offer views into it. A practice area apart from the main gym has ceilings high enough to accommodate the drill team's rifle and flag tosses. The parking lot, with lanes marked off for the team to march, doubles as a staging area.

“One day Gary called me and said, ‘John, I think we need to add a third story to the building,'” Ronan says, laughing. “And at that point, we didn't know what was going on the first two floors. He said, ‘I know we can do this. We'll make it work. I think we'll be sorry later if we don't do it.' And he was right.”

On the third floor is an enclosed, fully irrigated rooftop garden—the roof of the gymnasium/auditorium—whose bounty of vegetables and herbs is cooked in the center's kitchen. Meals are served in a 300-seat cafeteria that overlooks the gym. On a recent visit, a small group of kids had gathered in the cafeteria to learn about nutrition, while the gym below hosted a vigorous game of refereed basketball.

“They didn't have to build this place for us,” says 13-year-old Paige Starks, a Revere student who attends the center after school. “But they did.”

Lee Bey is a Chicago-based critic, professor, and adviser on architecture and urbanism.

Project: Gary C. Comer Youth Center, Chicago

Client: Gary C. Comer

Architect: John Ronan Architect, Chicago—John Ronan (lead designer and principal in charge); Evan Menk, Brian Malady (project architects); Nageshwar Rao, Oscar Kang, Yasushi Koakutsu, Bradford Kelley, Micah Land, Sara Stevenson (project team)

Structural: Arup

MEP: CCJM Engineers

Civil: Terra Engineering

Landscape: Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture

Acoustics: Kirkegaard & Associates

Lighting: Charter Sills & Associates

A/V: DB Integrated Systems

Food Service: Cini-Little International

THE ARCHITECT

  • Credit: Hedrich Blessing

Name: John Ronan

Age: 43

Firm: John Ronan Architect

Employees: 12

Education: M.Arch., Harvard University, 1991; B.S., University of Michigan, 1985