The Thought Barn

Radical [Re]construction of Community, a Historic Barn Raising on Chicago’s South Side

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What happens when you bring together creative people who are committed to rebuilding their neighborhood by hand and from the ground up?


They make new history.

"Make New History" is the theme of this year's Chicago Architecture Biennial, which features exhibits across the city that seek to "reflect on the ongoing significance of the past, and the myriad of ways that history is invoked in the production of new forms of architectural thought."


While one could easily argue that the Humans of Sweet Water make new history every single day, on an unseasonably hot Saturday this September, something more deliberate and, undeniably, historic took place.


On Saturday, September 23, 2017, a timber frame barn was raised on the Perry Ave Community Farm, a once ‘blighted’ city block in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South side. The barn, known as the Thought Barn, is the first, ground-up architectural building developed by Sweet Water Foundation that, upon completion, will bring a visual and performing arts, reflection, and community gathering space to the heart of the Perry Ave Commons.


Despite record-breaking heat of 95 degrees, more than 300 community members, partners, and supporters attended Sweet Water Foundation’s Annual Harvest Celebration + Barn Raising to witness what is is believed to be the first timber frame barn raised in the City of Chicago in more than a century. In the spirit of a traditional barn raising, more than 50 volunteers, including local community members and supporters from across the city and country, joined staff from Sweet Water Foundation and expert tradesmen from Trillium Dell Timberworks to manually raise the timber frame of the barn.


In the days that followed, Sweet Water Foundation staff and the Trillium Dell Timberworks team completed installation of rafters and roofing to complete phase one of the Thought Barn. The Perry Ave Community Farm now boasts an architecturally captivating and historic timber frame pavilion.  


The historical significance of the Thought Barn raising cannot be underestimated. The Perry Ave Community Farm was once scarred land. Like far too many parcels of land on Chicago’s South and West sides, the vacancy of the 5700 block of South Perry Avenue represented a history of erasure and disinvestment (see historical context below).


The Thought Barn raising manifests the Radical [Re]construction of Community using Sweet Water Foundation’s eco-logical practice of Regenerative Development. The Thought Barn stands as a symbol of healing, possibility, and restoration of community; providing a replicable model for community-driven neighborhood development that provides a people-centered - rather than profit-centered - alternative to traditional development and gentrification.


Historically, barn raisings took place within the fabric of rural communities where connections across families spanned generations. A tradition of independence and self-sufficiency was balanced with a common interdependence rooted in necessity. Barn raisings were a part of life and represented this balance. Like traditional barn raisings, the raising of the Thought Barn harnessed the energy of the community through collective action. However, unlike a traditional barn raising, in which a barn is built collectively by members of the community for a single family, the Thought Barn was built by the community for the community. The Thought Barn will not only provide a much needed community gathering and arts + cultural space, but also catalyze regenerative social bonds that restore a lasting sense of community and collective responsibility across individuals and their shared spaces.


What’s Next?

The raising of Thought Barn as a pavilion completes the first phase of vision. In the coming months, Sweet Water Foundation will seek the financial and in-kind services of supporters to finalize the design of the Thought Barn that will transform it from a pavilion to an enclosed structure that marries indoor and outdoor spaces of the Perry Ave Community Farm and is capable of hosting community events year-round.


The Thought Barn is the first of many collective action, design+build projects that Sweet Water Foundation will curate to orchestrate the repair, rebuilding and regeneration of the Perry Ave Commons and its neighboring communities.


More to come...There GROWS the neighborhood!


Our deepest gratitude to the people and organizations that made the Thought Barn Raising possible..


Thought Barn Raising Partners and Supporters:

  • ArtPlace America

  • Chicago Builds, a Chicago Public Schools Career & Technical Education Program

  • City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE)

  • City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development

  • Katten Muchin

  • Loeb Fellowship Program, Harvard Graduate School of Design

  • OpenDocs

  • Smart Museum of Art

  • Studio Gang Architects

  • Thornton Tomasetti

  • Trillium Dell Timberworks

  • Walter S. Mander Foundation


Harvest Celebration Contributors:

  • Barbara Pillow Sidibeh of Midwest Urban Farming Institute

  • Chef Mama Betty

  • Corey Wilkes

  • DJ Kwest_on

  • DJ Lee Farmer

  • Floyd Webb

  • Kiara Lanier

  • Michelle Nordmeyer



Rita Alvarez, Michael Christiano, Kathy Fitzgerald, Sheila Forte, C.J. Lind, Dionne Linton, Lorraine & Albert Lok, Michelle Nordmeyer, Ariana Oatman, Rebecca Parker, Erik Peterson, Sarah Polachek, Victoria Pratt Davis, Kolenda “Kokoa” Rattler and Family, Kathia Rodriquez, Tiffany Smith, and students of the University of Chicago College Scholars Program.


Sweet Water Foundation Team and Board Members:

Chantelle Brewer, Robert Cherry, Arthur Drake, Yshun Drake, Rose Florian, Jordan Graham, James Godsil, Lisa Kornick, Armani McCalister, Derris Miles, Howard Perkins, Devontae Phillips, Dejah Powell, Emmanuel Pratt, Jia Lok Pratt, Micheal Reynolds, Malik Robinson, David Snowdy, Rudy Taylor, Betty Williams, and Orrin Williams.

History of the Perry Ave Community Farm

The Perry Ave Community Farm occupies a full city block, located on the 5700 block between South Perry Avenue and Lafayette Street, at the nexus of the Englewood and Washington Park communities on Chicago’s South Side. This site was once home to the Moseley School, one of the oldest public schools in Chicago history.


Named after an early Chicago philanthropist, the Flavel Moseley School opened in 1856 as an elementary school at the corner of Michigan Avenue and 24th Street. In 1930, the Moseley School was converted to a social adjustment school for “truants, delinquents and incorrigibles.” Later known as the Moseley Correctional School, the school was a school moved to 5700 S. Lafayette Avenue in 1958 and was, ultimately, closed in the 1990’s. The building was briefly repurposed as a homeless shelter and, then, sat vacant until it was demolished.


In 2011, the City of Chicago and LISC partnered to transition the site from an empty city block into an urban farm. The City first leased the farm to a nonprofit with deep urban farming experience, but who lacked community engagement and investment. As a result, neighbors complained about the farming practices and the farm was vacated. The City of Chicago invited Sweet Water Foundation to revitalize the farm in May 2014.