In 2018, Wheeler Kearns Architects (WKA) submitted a design proposal for the Ragdale Ring Competition, an annual competition that “invites architects and designers to apply for a design-build studio residency leading to the installation of a temporary, outdoor performance venue.”
WKA’s design proposal “Iris” invites new guests and old friends to experience the site through a different lens—beneath a web-like canopy, in-the-round. “Iris” is conceived as an extension of the encompassing tree canopy, formed by a network of criss-crossing ropes that span from perimeter tree trunks to a center ring. The filigree of taut ropes grows in density towards a central focal point—a circle of sunlight. This circular void creates an oculus that floods a stage below with uninterrupted light while the ropes cast crossing shadows onto the lawn. The stage, a single yellow disk, floats a step above the ground and is placed near the middle of this “living-room” for artists, performers and observers alike to occupy. Audience members are invited to view performances “in-the-round,” seated on moveable spheres of air (green exercise balls) that can be rearranged as the sun changes positions or as artists and audience see fit. The audience, seated around the stage with patterns of shadows crossing over them, becomes an ever-changing participant in the performance in front of them; the artists and actors are bathed in a traveling circle of sunlight. As day turns into night, visitors witness an additional spatial transformation, the filigree of thread above glowing against the darkness of the sky. The night shadows on the ground reveal their own constellations; the center of the Iris becomes a window to the stars above.