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Goethe Elementary School | Brainstorming & Design Event

Goethe Elementary School | Brainstorming & Design Event

Goethe Elementary School Brainstorming Event

View additional pictures from the event here.

Project Summary

Located in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, J.W. Von Goethe Elementary School serves grades PreK-8 with distinguished academic programming. In 2005, Goethe was acknowledged as a School of Distinction. Over 30 Goethe students have won 1st or 2nd place in the Math Counts and Academic Olympics, and its Bilingual Program is used as model for the Transitional Bilingual Education programs organized by the Department of Language and Culture. Beyond the classroom, the Goethe schoolyard offers an important amenity to not only the school, but to the surrounding community as well. Designated by the City of Chicago as a campus park, the schoolyard is open for public use and it represents one of the few outdoor spaces in the immediate neighborhood.

Goethe Elementary School

Unfortunately, the school’s green space suffers from drainage issues, safety concerns, and a general lack of planning. However, Goethe Elementary School has a dedicated community of parents, students, teachers and staff, and neighbors who have committed themselves to improving the school’s grounds and solving these issues. In an effort to extend the success of academic programs beyond the walls of the facility, UHC partnered with Friends of Goethe School (FOGS), Goethe Elementary School staff, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and a host of talented designers from a range of disciplines to organize a brainstorming event to help generate ideas and a vision for future development.

Following the design event, UHC has continued to support Goethe throughout the development process, offering our expertise in sustainability and landscaping to help clarify the sometimes challenging complexity of the large-scale project.


The Goethe Elementary School Community (left). UHC’s Breena Ferguson speaking with a community member (right)

One of the most vital objectives of the event was to gather community input and support - critical necessities toward the success of any public project. The event allowed direct contact and conversation with the community in order to gain direct understanding of the project from the individuals that experience and use the space on a regular basis.

Utilizing the feedback acquired, the goal was to develop basic site recommendations to guide the endeavor and more comprehensive solutions that will continue to take form as the project evolves. The event will provide the community with a informational document to include an analysis of all community input and graphic illustrations illustrating potential methods and concept designs that will be used to help garner more support and funding.


Nine brainstorming stations were located around the room to encourage discussion

The two-day event began at Goethe Elementary School with a community presentation providing a general overview of the project, issues, and goals. As the school’s population is 88.7% Hispanic, the presentation and all event material were put forth in bilingual fashion. You can view the opening presentation here.

After the presentation, the event attendees (numbering approximately 100 people) were encouraged to participate in smaller discussions with UHC volunteers. A series of 9 stations were set up around the room that asked a variety of questions to foster the discussion and help gather information necessary from participant groups. For example, such questions included “What are your expectations for the schoolyard?”, “What problems does the schoolyard have?”, and “What is your relationship to the schoolyard?”

Participants were able to share their thoughts and ideas verbally, by writing them and pinning post-it notes at each station, and/or using a site map to identify their concerns or draw their ideas. A kids station was also included to encourage the students and children of the community to offer their ideas and concerns.

Kids prepared drawings depicting their ideas for the schoolyard

The second portion of the information gathering session included individual interviews where community members met one-on-one with UHC members or other design team members. Doing so allowed for a more intimate discussion of site-related issues and further ensured that the community voice was heard.

After the public consultation, UHC and the other participating designers entered into an intense design charette. The site issues and design ideas expressed were analyzed and synthesized. All concerns/issues discussed were tallied and broken down into ranked categories of concerns. A series of metric references were produced demonstrating the concerns most often expressed by participants. The design team used this analysis to inform their design.

The ideas and concerns posted at each station were organized into ranked categories of concerns

The team broke into two groups that focused on two overall design issues: sustainability and user function. From this more focused vantage, ideas were generated that helped address these issues which were then used to formulate concept designs for the site. A bilingual, final presentation was then given to the community to share the analysis of the site’s issues, how these issues might be addressed, and the final design concepts that were developed. The final presentation and final designs can be viewed here.

Next Steps

The design vision distilled from the conversations with the community provides a starting point for the schoolyard. FOGS and Goethe Elementary School plan to use the information generated to obtain funding and assist in creating partnerships with various organizations whose support is necessary for implementation.


Friends of Geothe
Goethe Elementary School including students, staff, and the surrounding community
Chicago Public Schools

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