Gary Comer Youth Center - Part 1 / by Michelle Linden

As a student, you should consider yourself very lucky if you have a studio professor who can push you creatively and intellectually, one that you can look up to both inside the studio and out. I was very lucky to have several professors at IIT whose own work I greatly appreciated, and who helped me to create my best work. John Ronan was one of my favorite of these professors, due both to his abilities as a teacher and mentor as well as his impressive work portfolio.

While in Chicago, I was able to take a tour of the Gary Comer Youth Center, one of John's most recent projects, which is getting quite a bit a press right now. We were asked not to take photos of the interior, but I can tell you that it was just as impressive as the exterior.

What appear as bold graphic moves on the exterior are actually reflective of the interior spaces. A two story room for dance, rifle practice, and flag twirling, and an art studio with ample light create two of the boxes we experience on the exterior.

The center is much larger than it appears. The gymnasium, which doubles as an auditorium is located below ground, but visibly open to the parking/courtyard and the cafeteria areas. Visitors and students alike can walk around the perimeter of the gym, checking out the activity below. Once at the lower level, the enormity of the building is slightly more evident. The locker rooms are as large as I've ever seen, extending deep under the building.

The upper floors encircle the gym, providing space for computer labs, weight lifting facilities, a dance studio, an audio visual lab, and more. The upper most floor (where most of the offices are located) encloses a rooftop garden. This greenspace acts as more than just a 'green' roof, providing a living garden for the neighborhood's residents. The skylights that provide diffused light to the lower floors penetrate the garden as simple circular tubes and are reminiscent of the sculptures often found in city parks. Considering the limited amount of glass at the exterior facade, there is a great deal of natural light dispersed throughout the building.

Most of the interiors were very simple and clean. There were a few interesting details including cmu with a finish I've never seen before, quasi-exposed acoustic insulation, bent metal signage, and a stair rail that could not possibly meet code (but was of course very beautiful).

Personally, I think John Ronan is very deserving of all the accolades this project is receiving, and the students who use it are both lucky and deserving to have such a facility.