Arup Helps Design With Company Open Ragdale Ring Winner

by Naomi Crews

Shaw Town (c) Robert BeckerThe winners of the Ragdale Ring 2015 competition, Design With Company, recently announced the opening of this year's Ragdale Ring performance space, "Shaw Town," in collaboration with Arup. The Ragdale Ring 'Shaw Town' pop-up performance venue pays omage to revered Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw.

Arup and architects Design With Company celebrate ‘Shaw Town’, Winner of the 2015 Ragdale Ring Design Competition

Ragdale’s pop-up performance venue references famed Chicago architect Howard Van Doren Shaw

CHICAGO – (July 7, 2015) – Arup, a multidisciplinary engineering and consulting firm, in collaboration with Design With Company, the winners of the Ragdale Ring 2015 competition, are pleased to announce the opening of this year’s performance space. Ragdale, one of the largest nonprofit artists’ communities in the country, launched an international competition to redesign and reconstruct the Ragdale Ring performance venue, originally designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw in 1912. “Shaw Town,” Design With Company’s winning concept, references specific architectural features from Shaw’s original buildings in the Chicago area — such as the rooftops of Market Square in Lake Forest (1916) and the Quadrangle Club at the University of Chicago (1920) — and repurposes them using contemporary materials into a performance space with audience-friendly pillows.

The 2015 Ragdale Ring winning design consists of two parts: a wooden box and twenty foam cushions. Resembling a large-scale toy box when not in use, the stage lowers and the cushions spill out in preparation for a performance. Common design motifs from Shaw include nestling silhouettes, tectonic decoration, and repetition in groupings of three — executed in dimensional lumber and plywood. The project revisits and recasts fragments of his buildings to be experienced anew in foreign contexts, out of scale, and in unfamiliar materials.

“We think of the entire project as a performance that engages audiences at all levels, from the construction team living at the colony, to the way people engage with the cushions, to the movement of the stage itself,” says Stewart Hicks of Design With Company. Adds Allison Newmeyer: “It is like a piece of theater for theater that connects histories and narratives with an engaged audience.”

Arup provided acoustic consulting and structural engineering services for this temporary outdoor performance stage. In close collaboration with the architects, Arup optimized the structure for a range of unamplified performances including music, drama, and poetry readings. Their analysis utilized a proprietary in-house 3D acoustic raytracing tool set. The resultant recommendations preserved the architectural concept while greatly improving acoustic intimacy and uniformity of coverage to both the audience and performance areas. Structural analysis and detailing was also critical to the project’s success. Without encroaching on the aesthetic, connection details for the unique features of the shape had to be kept simple as construction team members were un-skilled labor including student volunteers and the architects themselves. Arup also created a 3D structural analysis model to ensure the structure would not be damaged in high wind velocities typical of Chicago summer thunderstorms.

“Our unique acoustic and structural analysis tools were utilized to collaboratively inform design decisions with the architects – allowing all members of the design team and the owner to engage in the development and refinement of the ultimate performance space,” said Ryan Biziorek, an associate with Arup. “The simple but eloquent and efficient structure optimizes acoustic engagement and enhances the artist and audience engagement for the summer program.”

About Design With Company

Design With Company is the Chicago-based architectural collaborative of Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer. Design With Company seeks to transform the world through textual and visual narratives, speculative urban scenarios, installations, and small-scale interactive constructions. Stewart Hicks received his MArch from Princeton University and is currently assistant professor of architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is a fellow of the MacDowell Artist Colony and a recipient of Architectural Record's Design Vanguard Award and the Young Architect's Forum Prize. Alison Newmeyer is visiting assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and also teaches at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and the Illinois Institute of Technology. She is a fellow of the MacDowell Artist Colony and is the recipient of architectural awards from the Van Alen Institute and Architizer.