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Gary Comer Youth Center

Landscape Performance Benefits


  • Creates a hospitable microclimate in the rooftop courtyard, with average temperatures between 20-30°F warmer on the roof in winter and 10°F cooler in summer.


  • Produces 1,000 lbs of fruits and vegetables annually. Food from the rooftop feeds 175 children at the center each day, is distributed among four local restaurants, and is sold at a local farmers market.
  • Enriches a diverse educational platform, with approximately 600 students and community members ages 8-80+ participating in the garden learning programs and activities throughout the year.


  • Saves $250 in annual heating and cooling costs as compared to a conventional roof by moderating heat gain and loss.

At a Glance

  • Designer

    Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects

  • Project Type

    Urban agriculture
    Youth/Community center

  • Former Land Use


  • Location

    7200 South Ingleside
    Chicago, Illinois 60619-1322
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  • Climate Zone

    Humid continental

  • Size

    8,160 sf

  • Budget

    $30 million

  • Completion Date


Located on Chicago’s southside, the Gary Comer Youth Center offers extracurricular activities and hands-on learning opportunities in a positive and safe environment. The elevated courtyard, located above the gymnasium and cafeteria and encircled by the broad windows of the third floor, gives youth and seniors access to a safe outdoor environment. The working garden produces over 1000 lbs of organic food annually and functions as an outdoor classroom, enriching a variety of mathematics, horticultural, culinary and business courses that help to prepare students for college and careers.


Gary Comer and the design team sought to provide a haven for young people and promote the many benefits of urban agriculture in a community located in one of Chicago’s food deserts (urban locations lacking easy access to affordable fresh produce). Because the climate in Chicago can vary wildly between seasons – sub-zero winters, as well as summer temperatures that frequently exceed 90°F – designers were challenged to create a micro-climate that would be hospitable for year-round classroom activities and food production. The soils needed to be rich and regenerative for year-round crop production.


The GCYC elevated courtyard was designed with 18-24 inch deep soils, engineered to provide both agricultural capacity and maximum drainage. To promote soil longevity, the soil is amended and crops are rotated seasonally by students and volunteers led by a full-time garden manager. Ambient heat from the building creates a hospitable microclimate on the roof. With the addition of crop hoops, the rooftop temperature stays above 40°F even when ground-level temperatures are below 20°F. A sun and wind study provided the basis to select wall heights and position tall grasses to assure that there is always a shaded place to find comfort on hot summer days.

  • The elevated courtyard garden is a 8,160 sf green roof with a growing media depth of 18-24 inches, which allows for viable food production, including cabbage, sunflowers, carrots, lettuce and strawberries.
  • The green roof design accommodates six large metal light wells, which serve as elements of artistic expression while providing passive solar lighting to the gymnasium and cafe below.
  • The building ventilation system is integrated with the elevated courtyard design, utilizing an ambient heat source for passive climate control on the roof. This puts the courtyard garden in a different climate zone and allows it to be used throughout the winter.
  • Pathways within the courtyard garden are made of a lightweight composite material of recycled lumber and plastic and align with the surrounding window frames.
  • Floor-to-ceiling windows along the circulation corridor of the third floor allow students to view the garden as they move from one classroom to another.
  • The rooftop classroom offers students age 8-18 a range of applied learning opportunities, including geometry, green roof technology, small business management, culinary arts and environmental science.
  • Experimental garden plots provide a controlled environment for a variety of horticultural research, including the effects of climate change.
  • A full-time garden manager maintains the flower and vegetable gardens and supports volunteer and educational program development.

No information available.

  • The planting design has been revised to provide a more flexible curriculum for the youth center. Instead of being planted for aesthetic purposes alone, the planting scheme integrates a variety of experimental plots and is changed seasonally. Tall grasses were also added to provide more shaded areas.
  • Better irrigation was needed to maintain the neccessary level of moisture in a climate of extremes. Post-occupancy improvements were made to the irrigation system to add above ground drip irrigation.
  • The soils have been continually enriched through compost teas and crop rotation, however the long-term capacity of specially designed green roof soils when applied to agriculture is not yet known. The ongoing care and experimentation at the GCYC will provide future rooftoop farmers with a wealth of information pertaining to soil longevity and effective climate control.

Project Team

Architect: John Ronan Architects
Landscape Architect: Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects
Structural Engineer: ARUP
Greenroof System: American Hydrotech
General Contractor: W.E. O’Neil Construction Co.
Landscape Contractor: Walsh Landscape Construction, Inc.

Role of the Landscape Architect

The landscape architect worked closely with other designers and stakeholders to develop a vision for the green roof while assisting in all aspects of design. They also customized the planting scheme to maximize production and variety of rooftop yield, and suggested that the center employ a full-time garden manager to enhance educational program development and manage maintenance over the long-term.


Energy use, Temperature & urban heat island, Educational value, Food production, Operations & maintenance savings, Reused/recycled materials, Green roof, Food garden, Aging, Learning landscapes, Social equity

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