Work wrapped up this summer on Bittertang Farms’ installation at Ragdale, the nonprofit artists’ community in Chicago’s North Shore suburbs, and true to its plans the straw amphitheater springs forth from a lush hillside in Lake Forest, Illinois. Designers Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres of The Bittertang Farm won $15,000 earlier this year to erect the 102nd Ragdale Ring—an ongoing design competition for temporary outdoor theater spaces in north suburban Chicago. Based in Mexico City and New York City, the designers evoked the theater’s bucolic setting with straw-filled tubes of biodegradable material. Dubbed Buru Buru, Bittertang’s amphitheater creeps up from the soil with straw wattle tendrils. Wrapping around a framework of trusses, it forms a pentagonal opening whose womb-like quality is only enhanced by LEDs that illuminate the interior at night. Buru Buru’s organic elements are more than a formal nod to fuzzy ideas—the structure is actually meant to entwine with its natural habitat over time. In addition to sheltering actors and activating the rolling hills of Lake Forest, Buru Buru is also a substrate for growing grasses and mushrooms.
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Studio Gang’s treehouse revamp of Writers Theatre isn’t the only North Shore performance space to dance with organic forms. Designers Michael Loverich and Antonio Torres of The Bittertang Farm won $15,000 to install a temporary stage for performances in Lake Forest, where renderings show sculpted piles of hay and wavy architectural forms that “melt into the existing landscape.” Their design will be the 102nd iteration of the Ragdale Ring, a competition that invites architects, designers, and artists to cook up ideas for a temporary outdoor theater space on Chicago’s suburban North Shore. The nonprofit Ragdale Foundation has supported artist residencies and exhibitions since its founding in 1897 on the grounds of Arts and Crafts architect Howard Van Doren Shaw’s summer home in Lake Forest, Illinois, 30 miles north of Chicago (1230 N. Green Bay Road, Lake Forest, Illinois). “At Ragdale we are creating a new ground—one that brings together different architectural forms, including grottoes, gardens, mounds and hay piles to create a structure that can be performed ‘on’ as well as ‘under,’” said Loverich and Torres in a statement. Construction on the temporary structure will begin this month, with the public unveiling scheduled for June 14. The debut will be a benefit show featuring a “masked garden party” and performances by musicians and actors inside the Ring. “The Ring will serve as a gathering place, enlivening the historic campus of Ragdale as a place of dynamic artistic and architectural experimentation,” said Zurich Esposito, executive vice president of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), juror, and a member of Ragdale’s board of directors. “And, when the season concludes, the Ring is ultimately biodegradable.” The design appears as a larger version of an installation the firm built on New York City's Governors Island in 2011.