In 2006 the Gary Comer Youth Center designed by John Ronan Architects opened on Chicago’s underserved South Side. The colorful building housing recreational facilities received numerous awards and led to the recent Gary Comer College Prep, which forms a small campus with its predecessor. Bright green metal panels define the new building, linking it with the Youth Center without mimicking the earlier design. John Ronan Architects answered some questions about their design of the College Prep.
Exterior view from the sidewalk
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?
We were selected because we had designed the youth center (completed 2006) with which this building forms a campus.
Exterior view from the south west at dusk
How does the completed building compare to the project as designed? Were there any dramatic changes between the two and/or lessons learned during construction?
The building started out with a series of courtyards carved out of the building mass; later, these courtyards were removed for cost reasons, and a series of linear skylights were added to bring natural light into the center of the building. Classroom walls were glazed so that classrooms could receive light from two sides (through exterior wall and corridor wall).
Interior view from the corridor looking through a classroom
How does the building compare to other projects in your office, be it the same or other building types?
The project is one of four high schools we have completed in the past year or so. Each one is different and unique to its culture. This one speaks to issues of security—it is in a neighborhood troubled by violence—with its perforated metal cladding over the windows. The spring green color references the youth and optimism of its young faculty. Glass classroom walls both reflect its goals of transparency and accountability, as well as shape its culture.
Ground floor plan
How does the building relate to contemporary architectural trends, be it sustainability, technology, etc.?
This LEED Silver-certified building’s envelope is designed to minimize energy consumption; 3” of rigid exterior insulation supplement in-wall insulation to provide strong thermal performance, while an extensive green roof and 12” of roof insulation combine to provide thermal efficiency from above. An extensive green roof mitigates the urban “heat island” effect. Perforated metal screening on the outboard side of the windows on the east and west facades and low-e glass minimize heat gain. Porous paving in the faculty parking lot allows for site retention of rain water, to reduce the amount of water handled by the city sewer system.
E-Mail Interview conducted by John Hill
Section – looking east
Section – looking north - classrooms