Gary Comer Youth Center Green Roof | Chicago, IL

Gary Comer Youth Center Green Roof | Chicago, IL

The Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC) is a boldly designed and heart-warming community center located in Chicago’s South Side. Sited one block away from Revere Elementary, GCYC provides a safe, educational haven for inner-city youth and runs extracurricular programs to help young adults graduate high school and prepare for college and future careers.


Context—Lodged between a major roadway and residential neighborhood, the center has become a beacon for the entire neighborhood. Image Credit: Hoerr Schaudt

Designed by John Ronan Architect, the colorful center was built with flexibility in mind:

“The building’s main space, an adaptable gymnasium that serves as a practice space for the drill team, converts to a 600-seat performance venue via a deployable theater seating system, deployable curtains and stage doors that open to reveal a large performance stage. Together with the adjacent cafeteria, it comprises the center of energy for the complex. Bars of flexible program space for educational and recreational programs wrap around this core, ending in important spaces on the building exterior (dance rooms, art rooms), displaying the activity inside to the community.” — Project Description 

But out of all of the colorful colors of the center, the most dominant one is green. In 2010, ASLA awarded the Gary Comer Youth Center Green Roof with a Design Honor Award for the center’s green roof design and planting palette, calling it a ‘Rooftop Haven for Urban Agriculture’.

“This vegetable green roof garden designed as an outdoor classroom adds an unusual dimension to traditional green roof design. A full-time gardener utilizes a planting system custom-designed by Hoerr Schaudt to teach inner-city youth methods in gardening. The garden maximizes two heat sources, ambient heat from the building and solar energy, which allows for gardening nearly all year. Soil depths of nearly a foot allow for a wide variety of plant material.” — Hoerr Schaudt Project Description

Capable of producing over 1,000 pounds of fruits and vegetables annually, the Gary Comer Youth Center Green Roof is an educational center for youth to teach them the art and skill of gardening. The green roof is made accessible by light-weight pathways made from recycled milk containers and the gardens are interspersed by giant metal circles that double as skylights for the gymnasium and the cafe below, as well as sculptural pieces of art.

The GCYC’s award-winning building is a busy place—a building tour would need to be reserved a month in advance. Luckily, Marji Hess, the gardening manager, was able to briefly meet with me on the day of the center’s Halloween party for a short tour of the rooftop garden. As the overseer for garden operations, Marji has seen the green roof through its seasonal iterations and the transformation of its plant palette. Since the installation six years ago, the original planting plan by Hoerr Schaudt has since been revised by Roy Diblik, the plantsman and designer of North Wind Perennial Farm, in tandem with Marji, in order to respond to lighting needs an to create a year-round plant palette.

Having worked with the youth in the garden, Marji said one of the best parts of the green roof were the giant skylights that shone down into the building, helping to establish a physical and mental connection down below at the cafeteria to the outside world and green roof.

About the Journey:

Hi! My name is Lucy Wang and I’m a recent landscape architecture grad from the University of Maryland. I’m currently traveling the U.S. (and parts of Canada) by public transportation for the next several months in search of great, publicly-accessible landscape architecture sites, as well as landscape architecture firms and universities. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite finds on Land8 along the way. For more information, check out my profile.  As always, feel free to leave a comment below!

Where I’ve been:

Chop Stick, Indianapolis

Lafayette Greens, Downtown Detroit

Yorkville Park, Toronto

Published in Blog


  1. These are great pictures, Lucy. Also an interesting project.

  2. The building and landscaping are ugly.  Hate everything.  Tear it down and start over.

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