lake forest, illinois
The original Ragdale Ring was an outdoor performance space designed and built in 1912 by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw for his playwright wife, Frances Shaw. The Ragdale Ring’s design concept was threefold, defined by its strong geometries, by its materiality - composed solely of natural materials such as grass, trees, stone, and wood - and by its implementation - carved into the earth of Shaw’s natural landscape.
Gather Rings is a contemporary reinterpretation of Shaw's Ragdale Ring. Similarly to the original, Gather Rings is composed of several layers of discrete rings that come together to form a cohesive whole. Conceptually: the carpet, furniture, and roof. Starting from the ground up, the first layer of rings is the softscape, carved into the existing landscape and materially expressed by plants, gravel and water - this forms the “carpet” upon which the next layer is placed. The second layer of rings is the elevated hardscape, made up of various types and sizes of multipurpose movable wood furniture elements, and the round stage. The third and final layer is the stage’s ring-shaped canopy, an airy wooden pergola that spans between the earthen carpet and the sky above, providing shade and shelter to the stage as well as framing views of the performers and the landscape beyond. The combination of these three layers creates a strong figure-ground condition, generating an organic network of paths that draw visitors’ attention to the diversely textured and articulated ground plane upon which they walk, gather and interact.
The layering of materials, colors and textures creates a hyper-graphic, quasi-painterly composition typically found in large-scale agricultural irrigation patterns, or in certain Cubist artworks. The Cubist movement was already well established by 1912, when the original Ragdale Ring was constructed, and provided a radical shift in the way landscape and built forms were represented. There is a palpable tension between the “natural” and informal garden designs of Shaw and his peers (captured beautifully in the pastoral painting by Sir John Everett Millais) and the sharply defined, geometric shapes of Braques’ landscape painting. Over the course of the summer, Gather Rings will straddle between these two worlds of landscape design representation, starting its life as a strongly defined geometric framework and evolving through the growth of its natural elements into a contemporary Wildlife Garden.