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Chicago’s Ravinia festival plans new interactive ‘music experience’ building

The popular outdoor concert venue aims to showcase the “power of music” with its upcoming exhibition hall

Ravinia Festival
Ravinia Festival

Ravinia, the country’s oldest outdoor music festival and the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, is moving forward with a new music experience center. Designed to both educate and entertain visitors to the popular performance venue in suburban Highland Park, Illinois, the project represents another move towards indoor programming to expand the season beyond the summer and make the cultural institution perhaps more of a year-round destination.

Expected to be completed by the 2019 summer season, the so-called Music Box Experience Center would contain a 65-seat indoor theater, interactive exhibits, and two gallery spaces. Ravinia management has teamed up with BRC Imagination Arts to program the space with a seven to eleven minute special-effects show illustrating the “emotional and inspirational power of music.”

The new structure comes from architects Dirk Lohan and Michael Barnes of Wight & Company. The duo were behind Ravinia’s most recent building, an arts-and-crafts-inspired dining pavilion completed in 2007. The existing two-story dining hall will get a new outdoor dining veranda in 2018 that will eventually connect to the new music experience center via elevated platform. It is hoped that the improvements will make both buildings more accessible and inviting to visitors.

Ravinia’s dining pavilion [left] and the upcoming Music Box Experience Center [right].
Ravinia Festival

“Synchronicity between people indoors and outdoors is what we want to achieve,” Barnes told Sheridan Road Magazine recently. “Since anyone with a ticket to Ravinia will be able to visit, we know that we need an alluring way for the interior to be inviting and visible from multiple vantage points of the exterior walkway.”

The project required Ravinia to amend its Planned Development agreement with the city of Highland Park which limited how much of the park’s 36-acre grounds could be covered by buildings. The festival also asked officials to relax restrictions on the number of off-season donor events and delivery hours for trucks, reported the Chicago Tribune. Some local residents pushed back against the plan, claiming it threatened the park-like character of the venue.