Creative people are wired up differently than ordinary folks. And that’s a good thing. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to look out at the Chicago skyline and be wowed each and every day.
The two young architects who won the 2014 Ragdale Ring competition embody creativity and experimentation. Their design is a bold mixture of straight lines and wattles (hay wrapped in tubes). If it sounds odd, well, you have to see the nearly finished product to understand the concept.
Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres of The Bittertang Farm, based in New York City and Michoacan, Mexico, developed the winning design for this year’s Ragdale Ring. Architects, designers and artists were invited to submit their interpretation of the original Ragdale Ring.
The ring was intended—and still is—as an outdoor performance space. Howard Van Doren Shaw originally designed it in 1912. Today’s Ragdale Ring is fittingly constructed at Ragdale in Lake Forest, on the grounds of Shaw’s former home. In the mid-1970’s, his granddaughter converted the estate into an artist’s residence.
Loverich and Torres received a $15,000 production grant to fund the project and a six-week residency at Ragdale. They designed the concept. Now, they have to build it.
On May 28, the work-in-progress had its first official public viewing. It’s now mid-afternoon the day before and the Bittertang Farm team is nervously eyeing the sky. Rain has been in the forecast but it’s still sunny. Loverich is reviewing the nearly completed work while Torres is busy measuring and cutting.
I pulled them away from the structure and asked how they came up with the concept.
“When we read the brief, we were really intrigued by the idea of a ring for performance, the importance of landscape and that it was an artist’s residency,” said Loverich. “We’d been doing a few projects using wattles of hay to merge architecture and landscape together, and we figured this was a great way to combine them. That’s the hook that got us into it.
“The form—there was a reference to a ring, an amphitheater,” he continued. “We didn’t want to do a typical circle. That’s why we have the wattles. They are the most prominent section of it.”
Torres explained how the team developed a palate of materials.
“We knew there was a prairie and meadows, and we used the hay as a growing medium,” he said. “That’s how we came up with the tubes, the hay wattles.”
Although Torres was getting ready to make a Home Depot run (not his first, nor his last), the team was able to reuse a number of components from the 2013 Ragdale Ring. Yes, adaptive reuse even exists way up north in Lake Forest.
The temporary nature of the Ragdale Ring initially threw some folks for a (excuse the pun) loop, according to Jeffrey Meeuwsen, Ragdale director.
“We want to give the density of experience, focus on the work and allow artists to take leaps,” Meeuwsen said. “Some people may ask, ‘Why create a temporary structure with a cash award?’ That’s a leap for some people. But for me it’s an important part of the creative process.”