Sweet Water Foundation Summer Interns

Ross Barney Architects hosts two interns from the Sweet Water Foundation.

Existing Vacant Lot

Existing vacant lot at 57th and Lafayette.


Ross Barney Interns

Diagramming and analysis of pocket park site.


Park Rendering
Renderings show the transformation of a vacant lot into a pocket park.

Through the Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces Program Michael and Maurice spent 6 weeks this summer interning at Ross Barney Architects. This program engaged 25 youth from the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s (CAF) Teen Fellows Program and Sweet Water Foundation’s (SWF) Apprenticeship and Outreach Program.

Sweet Water Foundation, directed by Emmanual Pratt, works to build urban farms across Chicago, providing food and job training to blighted areas and food deserts. Their Aquaponics Facility at Chicago State combines aquaculture (raising aquatic organisms) and hydroponics (growing plants in water).

“We work to catalyze and cultivate innovative spaces that emphasize the relationship between inspiration, education, action and innovation by  supporting STE[A+]M  (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Design/ Architecture/ Agriculture, and Math) education that pushes students to become innovators and inspires individuals to pursue previously unimagined career paths or projects.  Sweet Water Foundation’s programs are not static, but rather change to fit the needs, budgets, and students of the organizations and educational institutions with whom we collaborate.” (Sweetwater Foundation, 2014)

Sweet Water operates in both Chicago and Milwaukee. The 2-acre Perry Avenue Community Farm and Think-Do House in Chicago support a range of interconnected STE(A+)M based initiatives emphasizing the interrelationship between inspiration, education, commerce, art, action, and health and wellness. For example, SWF is a member of the Chatham MMRP Advisory Committee and is working with the Housing Sub Committee about using the SWF as a model for ‘regenerative placemaking’ in future development projects. “I’m obsessed with the concept of blight,” Pratt said. “The old idea was, wipe it out and start anew. Then people wondered, ‘Where’s the solution?’ I say: ‘Here it is.’” (Chicago Tribune, 2014)

As a significant portion of the Sweet Water Foundation is education, Pratt started the Re[Created]ed spaces program to help provide paid summer internships for Chicago youth with both hands-on physical learning at the Perry Avenue Community farm, but also engaging in the design process with professional architects. “We’re training students to become entrepreneurs, or, as I like to call them, ecopreneurs in the green industry,” Pratt said (Chicago Tribune, 2014). Chantelle Brewer, who serves on the Board of Directors for Sweet Water foundation, happily volunteered to host two interns for 6 weeks here at Ross Barney Architects.

The interns, Michael and Maurice, were tasked to design the transformation of a vacant lot into a pocket park on 57th and Lafayette. Michael and Maurice were in the studio two days a week and on the Sweet Water Farm the rest of the week where they watered plants, weeded, harvested produce, and assisted in constructing of park furniture.

Michael and Maurice are graduates from the Community Youth Development Institute (CYDI), recent high school graduates, and will be attending University this fall to study Construction and Construction Management. During their time with CYDI, Michael and Maurice brought Aquaponics systems to their high schools, learned to build furniture, and became resources of agriculture knowledge for their community.

Using various programs, Michael and Maurice analyzed the site and diagrammed site access, community amenities, and adjacencies. Precedent images and examples were then gathered and shared with stakeholders and another group of interns at the CAF. Michael and Maurice used Google Sketchup to make 3D models of the vacant lot to be transformed into a park. They both had unique ideas about what types of programs and activities the park would contain and began to visualize these activities. Finally, Michael and Maurice created renderings of their design and visions of the newly transformed park.

The culmination of their internship experience was a presentation of their work throughout the summer both to the Sweet Water Foundation and to the Ross Barney Architects studio. Michael and Maurice were able to gain a proficiency in a variety of programs in an amazingly short time frame. Their insights to the community and the work of SWF also brought an invaluable perspective to their design proposals.

We wish them all the best in school and look forward to seeing what they do in the future!