Rounds is an outdoor performance pavilion designed by SPORTS for the Ragdale Foundation, an artist colony 30 miles north of Chicago. The project is a contemporary interpretation of the original Ragdale Ring designed in 1912 by Howard Van Doren Shaw as an open-air theater for his playwright wife. Rounds honors Shaw’s Ring by further architecturalizing the ring, reenvisioning it as a whimsical and inhabitable performance surface. The new ring considers the way in which one engages the space of performance and intends to allow the ring itself to become integral to that experience, while also producing an atmosphere of discovery and fun for visitors.
Through its multiplicity of surface undulation types and sizes, Rounds encourages a multiplicity of performance types, performer to audience relationships, stage arrangements, and seating options, generating a versatile outdoor venue and a fully encompassing experience. Acting as a piece of architecturally-scaled garden furniture, the project compliments the beautiful existing landscape and natural prairie setting and can be enjoyed by both visitors on special occasions as well regularly by artists in the residency program as they reflect and nurture their creative efforts.
Small-scale undulations in the ring surface act as lounge spaces for viewers during performances, or artists to contemplate their work during non-performance times. Mid-scale undulations in the surface provide entrances to the inner space of the ring, while also providing smaller scale protected stage areas. The largest undulation is designed for the main stage area, a stage that can be broken down into smaller parts and distributed around the ring for several concurrent performances.
As the competition winner, SPORTS was awarded the Adrian Smith Prize which included a production grant and 3-week residency at Ragdale where the team constructed the project. The studio collaborated with Arup Chicago to devise a construction strategy that was simple yet robust.
The project was modeled digitally, and the geometry was extracted for CNC-cutting in order to create a plywood structural grid system. The structure is clad in bendable plywood, primed, and then finished with an elastomeric stucco. This finish is a mint green color, allowing the ring to develop a whimsical and low-contrast relationship with the existing landscape. The thickness of the finish provides a seamless and monolithic look to the surface while the texture reinforces the project’s attitude of playful discovery.
BUILD TEAM: Greg Corso, Molly Hunker, Jordan Nelson, Nick Zukauskas, Kevin Lenhart, Preston Welker, Sean Morgan, Dabota Wilcox, Jon Anthony, Monika England, Kokeith Perry, Sarah Beadoin
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Rosborough Partners
FABRICATION CONSULTANT: Knowhow Shop
EXTERIOR FINISH: Stuc-O-Flex
PHOTOS: Nick Zukauskas