Architecture alumni selected to design 10th anniversary Ragdale ring

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A team of School of Architecture alumni consisting of Ahnaf Chowdhury ’19, (B.Arch.), Anuradha Desai ’19 (B.Arch.), Amelia Gan ’19 (B.Arch.) and Marda Zenawi ’19 (B.Arch.), recently won the 2022 Ragdale Ring competition for her entry, “Echo”, a design illustrating the rich historical significance of the landscape surrounding the Ragdale campus.

Specific views of the stage are arranged through openings between the reed walls. As they grow,
reeds create dynamic relationships with sunlight and line of sight.

Organized by the non-profit artist residency, the Ragdale Foundation, the annual competition, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, offers artists, architects and designers the unique opportunity to design and build a performance hall and venue rally on the grounds of Ragdale.

Each year Ragdale invites architects to reinterpret the Ragdale Ring open-air theatre, designed in 1912 by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw for the work of his playwright wife, Frances, through interventions that explore the intersections of architecture , sculpture, landscaping, public art and performing arts.

In response to ‘Roots’, the theme of this year’s competition, a jury of architects and artists selected ‘Echo’, a proposal designed by the [sic] + field team of Chowdhury, Desai, Gan and Zenawi, as winners of the 2022 performance season.

Embracing the obvious temporal qualities of competition, “Echo” revisits the first Ragdale Ring – a proposition of nature.

“Shaw’s passionate pursuit of landscaping transformed his garden into an enduring forum for the arts, itself an echo of the outdoor theater at Villa Ginanneschi-Gori. This typology is perhaps, in its most primordial form, the echo of a grassland,” the team explains. “We propose to explore the layering of these echoes and their underlying sensitivities.”

View of the Ragdale Ring

Benches are built into the reed walls creating shaded seating along the project enclosure.

At the heart of the design is a round stage, a mound of soil supported by blocks of compressed earth reinforced with seeds and sealed with gold paint, reflecting the limestone lip of Shaw’s stage. Surrounding the stage is a deconstructed ellipse of reed walls, a nod to the planted tunnels in Shaw’s design and the Villa Ginanneschi-Gori, which invite gliding through and around the site. Low-impact and long-lasting, the enclosure’s plants – an assortment of reeds and native wildflowers – are salvageable in late summer, allowing the facility to enter a circular economy.

“Exploration of sustainable construction methods and engineered degradation responded to the transient quality of the project,” the team notes. “Mulch, soil, plants, bricks and flowers will all be resold, with minimal site invasion.”

Within the reed walls are nooks with simple gold-painted benches that create seating along the design’s enclosure; a “meta-echo” audio system that allows music, sound and poetry to emerge from plants; and colorful spherical floor lights, which act as a reimagined version of the original Japanese paper lanterns on display throughout Shaw’s theatre.

Select elements of “Echo” will be staged at both the Chicago Cultural Center and the Chicago History Museum, two off-campus venues where Ragdale performances will take place this season.

“The Ragdale Foundation allows designers to test ideas and experiment in the field rather than operating as a commissioned project,” the team explains. “We look forward to further collaborative explorations of context, tools and agency on the Ragdale campus and engagement with its community.”

[sic] + fieldtrip received a production grant to build the temporary installation of “Echo”, as well as a design-build studio residency for a team of up to ten people in the creative community of Lake Forest, Illinois.

“We are very proud of these recent graduates who, like many young architects, have established their own practice and collaborate with other smaller practices,” said Michael Speaks, Dean of the School of Architecture. “Each of them also works for bigger companies or studies at the higher level. Individually and collectively, they create new models of collaborative practice and shape the future of architecture. And the brilliant results speak for themselves.

view of the Ragdale Ring at night

The original paper lanterns are reimagined as spherical floor lights.

Summer 2022 performances at Ragdale that incorporate “Echo” are scheduled to begin on June 18. The final event in the Ragdale Ring series is scheduled for August 13.

For more information on the Ragdale Ring competition and this summer’s show season, visit the Ragdale website.

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