Spectators at the annual performances of Chicago’s Ragdale Foundation, one of the country’s largest nonprofit artist residency programs, will enjoy the performances in an exciting new way this summer with a recently completed “living” amphitheater. The project, titled Buru Buru, was designed and built by progressive architects Antonio Torres and Michal Loverich of the small design firm Bittertang Farm.
Artists, architects, and designers were called upon to design an outdoor installation and performance space that is a contemporary interpretation of the original outdoor Ragdale Ring garden theatre designed in 1912 by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw. The founders of Bittertang Farm have created a name for themselves through their inventive creations of organic, interactive, and playful structures, and their winning proposal for the Second Annual Ragdale Ring Design Competition is no different.
Made of hay embedded with wild flowers and vines that will grow, bloom, and transform the amphitheater throughout the summer, Buru Buru blends sculpted piles of hay and winding, wavy architectural forms that fold seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. Instead of straight edges and defined lines, the structure is whimsical with accumulations of plant growth. Torres tells Chicago Architecture, “We didn’t want to do a typical circle. That’s why we have the wattles. They are the most prominent section of it.” The wattles, or tubes filled with hay, form the structure and reach out into the audience like tentacles.
Towering twenty feet high, the amphitheater has the appearance of a natural structure like a cave or a grotto with speckled lights and hanging vines on the inside. It transforms at night with LED lights that create a beautiful, artificial night sky. Loverich tells Lake Forester, “Over the course of the summer, things will start sprouting in it and the existing lawn will grow through it. It actually becomes much more alive as the summer goes on.”
Nine architecture students of various national identities came together to aid Bittertang in creating the organic structure. Torres’ and Loverich’s aim is to transform the world of architecture and organic design into a fun, artistic, and interactive experience while redefining what it means to build. Buru Buru achieves this goal with its fun, inventive structure that encourages the natural world to take over while providing a spectacular place for performance arts. According to Bittertang’s website, “By season’s end, most of the material will be composted to nourish future gardens.”