INAR 210- 220 Integral Interior
Design Studio I-II
Gary Comer Youth Center, Chicago, IL
• The Gary Comer Youth Center stands in the south side of Chicago.
The building was designed primarily as the home for the South
Shore Drill team - a precision performance troop made up of local
teens who march in parades and at events.
architect John Ronan designed this new building to include many
different spaces for kids and teens in the community to use after
school, including: a gym, stage, art center, recording studio, dance
studio, classrooms, gardens, library, and a kitchen.
The six design process steps
1. Define the Problem
it was originally planned give the South Shore Drill Team a place to
practice. But in this tough Chicago neighborhood, many of the kids
and teens did not have a safe place to go after school, so Mr Comer
also wanted to do something for these students.
• Plans for the building were soon expanded into a neighborhood
youth center that provided after school programs, education, and a
fun and safe place to hang out.
2. Collect Information
• many of the users did not want the new building to include
any windows, because they were worried about
neighborhood violence and drive-by shootings.
• The big challenge for the architect became: How do you
design a building that is secure - without a lot of glass at
street level - while also keeping the building light, airy, and
fun? This building couldn't be a bunker. It needed to be a
place that kids would want visit.
• Ronan continued to interview the future users of the
building - adult leaders and students - as well as Gary
Comer himself. Ideas for the building became larger and
complex as new spaces were planned. He and the
architects in his office also visited the future site of the
building many times, taking photos and measurements to
better understand the existing conditions.
3. Brain storm ideas
• Once John Ronan and the other architects in his office had gathered
information about the building's function and heard from the users
about their needs, the early design work began.
• lots of ideas that are constantly changing and being reviewed again
and again. Ronan did quick sketches and the staff members built
quick study models to understand the overall shape of the building.
At the beginning of the process, they looked at many different
schemes very quickly. Developing these 10 plans very quickly,
allowed the design team to come up with many possible schemes.
• The first idea isn't always the best idea
4. Develop Solutions
One of the biggest solutions that needed to be developed, was to
determine the exterior materials of the building. The 'skin' of the building
is one of the most distinctive features of the Gary Comer Youth Center.
• In the end, red and blue fiber cement panels reinforced with glass fibers
were used as the 'skin' of the building.
5. Feedback
• Plans for the building were constantly changing and the architects
frequently talked with the owner and the users to hear their feedback.
• Finally, the one that made the most sense for the users was to place the
Drill Team practice space in the middle and wrap the other
functions around the outside.
6. Final Design
The final design for the building is bright and colorful, signaling to the
community residents and kids that this is a safe, inviting, and fun place to be.
At night, the tiny slit windows glow and appear
to punch through the skin of the building.
While the sidewall level walls are more solid,
the upper floors have much more glass. These
rooms - the dance studio, the art studio, and a
few classrooms - have lots of natural light
A large open space in the center of the building has two main functions. Auditorium
seating facing a stage can be retracted into the wall to free up space for the gym and
drill team practice.
7. Build it
The steel skeleton of the building is constructed first. Then, structural concrete
panels create the walls. Insulation is added next, followed by glass and the brightly
colored fiber cement panels that hang off the steel frame.
On the roof garden level, the concrete structure is covered with a waterproofing
membrane before the earth fill is added.
The Youth Center is a social and recreational center that supports opportunities for
youth to develop their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive abilities and to
experience achievement, leadership, enjoyment, friendship, and recognition.
The Youth Center offers organized instructional programs for physical activities
such as dance, yoga, and martial arts and for academic and arts programs such as
science, crafts, and theater. It also offers opportunities for unstructured activities
such as game playing, socializing, club meetings, and outdoor play.
While unstructured activities are an essential part of a Youth Center, these are
staffed facilities and control and supervision are critical elements. These elements
impact facility design as do considerations for youth-friendly and youth-appealing
design. Safety is also of paramount importance.
Building Attributes
A. Space Types and Building Organization
• A Youth Center serves the dual purpose of accommodating unstructured
social interaction among different age groups and providing instructional
classes all in a safe, supervised environment. This drives the facility layout
and functional space adjacencies.
Typical Youth Center activity spaces include the
Control desk/check-in
Commons/game room
Snack bar
Activity rooms/classrooms
Multipurpose room/gymnasium
Computer room
Teen room and
Outdoor activity areas.
Typical Youth Center support spaces
include the following:
Administrative office space
Toilets and janitor facilities
Kitchen and
B. Design Considerations
• Create a Homelike Environment
Provide ample natural light
Provide a sense of welcome and arrival at the entrance, lobby, and control desk
Use residential-style doors and windows
Use indirect lighting as main ambient lighting, and
Avoid institutional, unnatural finishes, textures, and colors.
• Encourage Creativity
Carefully consider interior colors and textures.
Design the Youth Center to communicate a sense of fun, but use restraint (e.g., neutral tones
for backgrounds and ceilings, with warm colors for accents).
Consider wall murals in some common areas. Particularly for the teen room, consider guiding
a teen focus group to select an interior color scheme
Provide space and consider various techniques to display and celebrate youth artwork, and
Design display areas to be easily changed and updated, minimize permanent graphics
• Encourage Autonomy
• Youth centers are not schools. While supervision must be maintained at all
times, the design should accommodate autonomy in the unstructured
activity areas. The youth patrons should have independent access to the
• Snack bar and toilets
• Games, computers, and TV
• Friends and companions, and
• Quiet space for solitude.
• Include Appropriate Space for Staff
• Provide space to assist staff in developing and maintaining the center's
programs and business. Outside of normal day-to-day operations, staff
must be able to accomplish the following:
• Think and plan
• Meet and communicate
• Host visitors, and
• Store equipment and records.
• Maintain a Safe and Healthy Environment
Design the facility to accommodate equipment and operational strategies to both
protect the youth and maintain a healthy environment. Consider the following
critical elements:
Prevent unauthorized access by potentially dangerous personnel
Provide visual access to all spaces to monitor potential child abuse situations
Provide easily-cleaned finishes
Use non-toxic building materials and improved maintenance practices
Ensure good indoor air quality and abundant natural light, and
Ensure that equipment, furnishings, and finishes do not contain asbestos or lead.