When Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer began developing a concept for their Ragdale Ring entry, they found their inspiration in the person of Howard Van Doren Shaw.
The outdoor theater at Ragdale was originally designed by Shaw in 1912. The Ragdale Ring competition allows design teams to reinterpret Shaw’s vision. That vision will come to life this summer under the direction of Hicks and Newmeyer, partners in the West Loop firm Design With Company. Their winning design is aptly named “Shaw Town.”
“We just finished a book looking to the Midwest and its theory of architecture and we locked on the idea that architecture in the Midwest produces a certain kind of identity for the place by dealing with fragments of the everyday,” said Hicks.
The team will use architectural features from Shaw’s original buildings in the Chicago area, including the rooftops of Market Square in Lake Forest and the Quadrangle Club at the University of Chicago. Newmeyer said Shaw Town will use fragments in a practical way, with pillows (that look like bricks and toys) for theater audience to lean on comfortably.
“The pieces of architecture can be the pillows, which came from this idea, fragments of Shaw’s architecture,” she said. “We’re also interested in building as characters, and these fragments can move around on the ground and be their own characters.”
This year’s Ragdale Ring competition is the 103rd anniversary of Shaw’s first version. The Design With Company team will receive a $15,000 production grant to fund the project. They will also be onsite at Ragdale for an intense three-week design/build residency. The public unveiling of their work will be June 13.
For Hicks and Newmeyer, Ragdale will be a great opportunity to reconnect with colleagues they’ve worked with on previous projects.
“The three weeks will go fast, but the potential to not just build it but structure a series of activities with our friends is really exciting,” Hicks said.
The duo will lean on family members for assistance, including Newmeyer’s parents, both of whom bring noteworthy skills. Her mother is a quilter and her father is a cabinet-maker. Those skills will come in handy for last-minute seamstress touch-ups on the pillows and structural challenges, like a door that swings up instead of out.