DRAWINGS’s theatrically large chairs and table win the 2023 Ragdale Ring competition

Theater in the Round

DRAWINGS’s theatrically large chairs and table win the 2023 Ragdale Ring competition

Garden Room, the winning proposal for the 2023 Ragdale Ring Annual Competition (Tom Harris)

An informal gathering space made up of a wooden circular base surrounded by eight unusually large chairs is temporarily on view on Ragdale’s Lake Forest, Illinois campus. Nearly 7 acres of trees and open lawn areas encircle the temporary installation Garden Room by architecture practice DRAWINGS that is this year’s Ragdale Ring competition winning proposal.

Hosted by the Ragdale Foundation, a nonprofit residency program, the Ragdale Ring invites performance venues and gathering place designs. In its 11th iteration, the competition prompted the theme: “Theatre of the Intimate,” a request for a gathering space that was akin to “salons of the 17th and 18th centuries,” a description said. The theme’s inspiration stems from the Ragdale Ring’s return to the site’s original 1909 outdoor theater stage designed by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw.

Installation at night. Chair like structures with long benches positioned in a circle with light comin from the top of the planks.
The installation features integrated lights to glow during the night. (Tom Harris)

The essence of the theme resonated with DRAWINGS’s founders Daniel Garcia and William Smith convincing them to submit a proposal after years of following the competition. Garcia and Smith, who met while studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, built the installation on the foundation’s campus during an 18-day residency. DRAWINGS worked with structural engineering firm Beane Engineering.

Garden Room reinterprets the historic Ragdale Ring by adapting the social, spatial, and formal characteristics of a table surrounded by chairs. The design showcases a host of influences including Carrie Mae Weems’s photographic “Kitchen Table Series” sparking the idea of a table and chair as the setting where daily life takes center stage. The furniture are evocative of the work of Donald Judd, particualry his Chair 84 and Table 22 design. The pieces also references the form of Enzo Mari’s Carrara playground in Tuscany and riffs on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film The Holy Mountain. The site serves as architecture, furniture, and scenography.

The chair’s benches extend to provide additional seating. (Tom Harris)

The wooden base at the center of the site acts as a table. It is surrounded by exaggerated tall seating. Each of the elongated chairs is composed of a low wooden bench that is bisected by a flat plane serving as the chair’s back. At the top of each plane an integrated light glows from above to prominently illuminate the low-lying table surface. On the chair’s back, the bench protrudes outward to offer additional seating facing the trees on site. The massive scale of the structures forms a theatrical aesthetic, while it also encloses and separates the site from its surroundings making it feel private and closed-off yet still wholly integrated to the landscape.

Previous Ragdale Ring competition winners include [sic.] + fieldtrip, Almost Studio, and David Costanza and Piergianna Mazzocca.