John Ronan - The Gary Comer Youth Center Chicago IL Print
Friday, 24 July 2009 08:34


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This 74,000 square foot youth center, located in one of Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, demonstrates a commitment to social progress in providing a constructive environment for area youths to spend their after-school hours.


The center provides support for the programs of a 300-member drill team/performance group for children aged eight to eighteen, which performs in parades and on stage about 50 times per year, and provides space for various youth educational and recreational programs for disadvantaged children to better their chances of success in life.

Ronan_Youth_Center_02aRonan_Youth_Center_04Programmatic Sustainability

The building’s main space is a programmatically adaptable gymnasium that converts to a 600-seat performance theater. The space serves daily as a practice space for the drill team, and converts to theater use via a motorized telescoping seating system.

Ronan_Youth_Center_14Motorized curtains and ceiling panels serve to darken the space and reveal stage lighting, and motorized doors open to reveal the stage. This space, together with the adjacent cafeteria that overlooks the gymnasium, comprises the center of energy for the complex. Wrapping around this main space are programmatically adaptable bars that support a variety of educational and recreational programs, including an art room, computer lab, dance room, recording studio, band room, music room, costume shop, stage shop, tutoring spaces, classrooms, offices and exhibition spaces.
Ronan_Youth_Center_11Ronan_Youth_Center_12These bars contain flexible space that can be modified over time as programs in the youth center change, maintaining the building’s programmatic sustainability—its ability to evolve with the community over time.
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The spaces within these bars are designed to be flexibly adaptable to support multiple uses; the exhibition space on the third level has a deployable panel system for exhibition display that can also be used to sub-divide the space into classrooms; motorized black-out shades and screens enable it to convert to a lecture room. Formally, the bars terminate in important spaces on the building exterior (dance rooms, art rooms) to announce the activity inside to the community. Extensive use of glazing inside the building allows visual access between the different program spaces to foster a sense of community between the various building users, as well as create a sense of security and oversight.
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Ronan_Youth_Center_07Environmental Awareness
Classrooms, offices and exhibition spaces on the third floor overlook a large planted roof garden above the gymnasium/theater and cafeteria. The roof garden serves as outdoor classroom to support youth horticultural programs and environmental awareness. With a 24” depth of soil, children can plant and harvest vegetables, flowers, herbs, grasses, and can be used as a nursery for neighborhood garden clubs.

Skylights dot this garden landscape to bring natural daylight into the gym and cafeteria below. The garden collects and recycles rainwater, and serves to reduce the urban heat island effect in a way that simultaneously reinforces the educational mission of the youth center.

The site surface employs porous paving surfaces to reduce the pressure on stormwater management systems, while the parking lot doubles as a practice parade ground, surrounded by a perforated metal screen fence to provide for a secure outdoor practice environment but allow visual access to the performers inside from the street. Raised planters at the heavily-trafficed street provide an extra safety precaution to protect youths as they come to and from the center.
On the exterior, a rainscreen cladding system of brightly colored fiber cement panels speak to the center’s youthful orientation and re-birth of a community. An 80-foot tall mesh tower surmounted by an LED sign announces programs and upcoming events, and serves as a visual marker for the community.
Ronan_Youth_Center_05Ronan_Youth_Center_03The building users’ safety concerns posed a challenge in terms of the building’s fenestration; bullet-proof glazing is employed at large expanses of glass that face the street; natural daylight is brought in from above to create a light and airy interior, with a secure but inviting exterior. The cement board cladding panels are arranged in a seemingly random distribution pattern to animate the facade, and to allow panels to be replaced over time in response to damage or vandalism without drawing attention to their replacement.


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Last Updated on Friday, 24 July 2009 09:37