Curtain Wall

Year: 2018
Project Team: Emily Mohr, Jonathan Rieke, Claire Ronan

If reduced to its core elements, a theater comprises seating that holds the audience and a stage where performers can enact fictions, choreographed to begin and end through the opening and closing of a curtain. As these three parts - seating, stage, and curtain - have already proven to work quite well together, we propose to simply move them out of doors. Trading individual plush velvet chairs for sets of collectively used ready-made aluminum bleachers and expanding the role of the curtain to become theater walls that billow in the wind. Curtain Wall wraps the audience in the collective experience of a dynamic object, which shrinks and expands depending on the intimacy of the performance.

The ambition to create a dynamic object in the Ragdale site was inspired by the quasi-romantic aesthetics outlined in Brule Marx’s book The Machine in the Garden, in which author highlights the cultural codependence of industrial mechanics and pastoral idealism in the modernization of the American landscape. Curtain Wall attempts to romanticize a readymade architectural object, the bleacher, through both its mechanization, by setting it on tracks, and its juxtaposition against large-scale billowing linens, reminiscent of summer-time laundry drying in the garden.

The stage serves as the focal point of the scheme, around which bleachers of various sizes are arranged. Each bleacher is placed on a set of tracks that are recessed into the ground, allowing the precinct of the pavilion to expand or contract based on the desired intimacy of the event.The interstitial space between the bleachers is considered as a secondary gathering space on the lawn, which is framed by a lightweight system of posts and rods, from which will drape the enclosing curtain. The stage is given a simple roof to shelter performers from harsh weather. The whole domain is enclosed by a large fabric curtain, a cladding system that allows the bleachers to flex as needed, and visual porosity through seams in the draping.

Like Jean Claude and Christo’s famous Running Fence, the curtain acts as a type of inscription on the landscape, but a lightweight one. The curtain simultaneously provides the pavilion with an inward-looking focus and intensity, but a gossamer tactility that is indiscriminate of intrusion or manipulation. It can simply be pulled back to reveal the goings-on of the inside. The pliability of this edge is intended to encourage an engagement with the material of the boundary, and transform into a playful game the pseudo-serious architecturally induced effect of entering and exiting something.