RAGDALE RING COMPETITION
The history of space no longer physically present can only indexed through drawings, photographs, and text. Unearthing this history through new construction can uncover past effects, desires, and conditions which import similar conceptual ideas into new physical and temporal contexts. The 2015 Ragdale Ring manipulates the historical physicality and re-appropriates qualities of the original 1912 Plan by Howard Van Doren Shaw. In 1912 Shaw conceived the original plan, he was interested in the essence of place. Alice Hayes, Shaw’s granddaughter recalls, “To him Ragdale meant meadows and woods and hollow apple trees and country vistas. The raggedy look of the shrubbery, the low hanging branches of trees, and the invasion of the lawn by violets were all deliberate effects” (1). Establishing design parameters around a similar conceptual foundation allows for the lost historical theater to be diachronically indexed in 2015.
Rather than make arbitrary choices about form or function, allowing the historical ring to provide design criteria forcibly removes ambiguity from the design process. Manipulations of historical 1912 plan give forth an evocative set of criteria for a new historically referential garden theater. For example, the Mugho pine - a small prickly shrub with thousands of intersecting needles and braches gave form to the original theater. In the case of the 2015 Ring, a manipulation of this simple fact provides rational for materiality, the intersecting nature of construction, and confines of spatial boundaries.
Using a single element in various orientations challenges the element to produce a “raggedy” character referenced by Shaw, as well as an economically feasible construction. Conceptually derived from the needles of the Mugho pine, the wood crosses other pieces connecting together forming visually complexity and a structural framework. Similar to original stage framed by columns, the overlapped pieces of lumber frame the performance area, albeit in a different formal geometry. Referencing the original geometric plan, the structure constructs a perceptual ring in elevation made of hundreds of elements, each discontinuous and uniquely oriented.
Allowing these vectors (ie. lumber) to construct a perceptual ring, results in the visual porosity of the construction, allowing observers to gaze through the stage into the lush greenery beyond. While the 1912 design utilized a similar lush backdrop, the structure’s backdrop acts as filter for light all while blending with the landscape beyond.
The structure itself is sited within a ring equal in size to the original– a pixelated circumference of solar luminaries defines this ring. In lieu of Japanese lanterns referenced in the original scheme, illuminating the perimeter in plan with a single luminaire for each year since the theaters conception offers a visual boundary condition both by day and night. Allowing the grass to grow over the course of the summer, allows a natural boundary to form over time in the form of the ring.
On a warm summer’s eve, visitors come to “the ring”, for old time movies, performance art, dance ensembles, or concerts. Perhaps a Saturday garden art show or cocktail hour allow guests to engage the historic ideological underpinning of original garden theater. The structure has a circular stage which has the backdrop of the structure and natural greenery beyond. Purposefully aligned, the porosity allows a compression of space and gives viewers a fragmented view of the natural backdrop. The stage comes reaching out past front of the structure, giving way to small spaces flanking the stage to the right and left. This space can be utilized during interactive performances, awhile having continued back drop of the structure. Dissimilar to previous iterations of the Ragdale ring, the structure has the ability to suspend objects, a movie screen for projection, scrim, or interactive people during performances. The structure should not just house activity beneath it; activity should be on the structure, around the structure, or within the structure. Stools are purposely provided to create a diversity of seating options. While some seats are there for a night, others remain for days or weeks, and create an index of the relationship in history of the stool’s location in the ring.
Construction of the 2015 Ragdale Ring will consist of two parts – prefabrication sections offsite, and assembly on site in Lake Forest. The primary structure consists of two rings, one that is 7 feet in front of another. Behind the stage, there is a backdrop constructed of three main sections, one that connects to the rear ring on each side, and a section that stiches all of the sections together in the middle. The primary construction element of the ring utilizes 2” x 6” x 96” lumber, juxtaposed and cross bolted with 3/8” hex bolts. With each piece of lumber weighing approximately 11.25 pounds, the prefabricated sections weigh 100lbs or less allowing 2 people to carry, hoist, and attach each section as needed. Each prefabricated section is brought to the site via truck, and set into place. As the ring grows vertically the front and back “rings” tied together with cross braces that are fastened together on-site. At grade level there are ties that span the 7’ gap between front and back rings, these distribute load over a larger area of ground. These ties also brace the temporary plywood used to support the scaffolding during erection of the structure. Through several of these horizontal ties, ½” rebar will be driven through a hole in the wood to anchor the base to the earth. All prefabricated sections, plywood, tools and materials have been test fit to be shipped to site in a single 26’ truck.