Rounds is a temporary summer theater pavilion for an artist residency program 30 miles north of Chicago in the community of Lake Forest, Illinois, that explores how self-similar formal variation can implicate ideas of use / function as well as material assembly and fabrication techniques.
Departing from the convention of the bandshell structure and stage most commonly deployed in this setting (outdoor theater), Rounds establishes a whimsical and inhabitable performance surface that undulates up and down at varying scales, while simultaneously curving in plan. The features within the overall form were specifically designed to the scale of human body and the variety of ways in which the body can engage with the surface. Though there is a specific form, there is no “right” way to use the project. What develops is a kind of hyper functionalism out of its unspecified function – a precise ambiguity, or specific vagueness.
The project is a performance pavilion that learns from the history of theaters in the round, which historically bring the performers into the same space as the audience, allowing for a more dynamic – and blurrier – relationship between stage and seating, between performer and viewer.
The project is round in plan, and therefore has no front, back or side. Through its multiplicity of surface undulation types and sizes and lack of specific hierarchy, the project encourages a multiplicity of performance types, performer to audience relationships, stage arrangements, and seating options. Small-scale undulations in the ring surface act as seating 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.
Depending on how the performance is staged and organized, the formal articulations take on a different implied use. For instance, when a performance is sited on the main stage, the low parts of the ring are implied seating, while the mid-scale undulations are implied entrances. When another type of performance takes place, these identities shift, destabilizing the “function”.
The undulating band is 6’-6” wide, 1’-0” thick, and is 65’-0” in diameter. Due to the conical nature of the form (curving in both plan and section), the project exploits digital fabrication techniques to produce a series of structural wedges. The overall structure consists of 48 gridded structural wedges made of 3/4” CNC-milled plywood profiles and clad in 3/8” bendable plywood.
Once clad, the form is finished with an elastomeric stucco – a soft and flexible material due to its polymer base. The mint green color of the rubberized stucco allows the ring to develop a whimsical and low-contrast relationship with the existing prairie landscape. The thickness of the finish provides for seamless and monolithic look to the surface, while the texture and softness reinforces the project’s attitude of playful discovery and allows for greater physical use. Though sitting, laying and napping were some of the ways in which we anticipated audience members and resident artists engaging with the ring, we were interested to see how artists and performers over the course of the summer would further engage with the surface, thereby activating a broader understanding of use, or in-between understanding of use.
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