Interview & Tour: Tippet Rise’s ‘Daydreams’ schoolhouse defined by attention to detail

In January 2015, CTA was contacted about designing a building to be used as a backdrop for a famous sculptor’s on-site commission at the 11,500-acre-spanning Tippet Rise Art Center, located just outside Fishtail, MT. The program requirements for the project were very simple: replicate a late-1800s one-room Montana schoolhouse to provide a relatively protected interior space for housing a sculpture made of saplings. The true purpose of the project was to inspire internationally-renowned Patrick Dougherty, who would design and create his sculpture while on-site.

Situated on a working ranch, it was important the project be constructed to minimize disturbance of the landscape. This involved maintaining a small job site footprint and using eco-friendly solutions such as corncob grit blasting for weathering the exterior wood. With few interior lights and no mechanical or plumbing systems, the project has nearly no impact on its environment. It is a passive inhabitant of its ecosystem.

Get a closer look at the Daydreams schoolhouse
with this tour from project designer Jimmy Talarico:

The most difficult task for this project was determining the level of protection needed for the sculpture while creating a building that looked as if it was battered by a century of weather. Dougherty creates ephemeral sculptures out of native saplings, so long-term deterioration of his work was assumed. However, he requested the design team determine a way to protect the interior from water infiltration so as to maximize the potential for its longevity. This is typically not particularly difficult, but when replicating a more than 100-year-old, deteriorated schoolhouse, the task becomes significantly more challenging.

One element then-Tippet Rise director Alban Bassuet wanted to preserve was the look of a deteriorated roof allowing natural light to filter into the interior through gaps in the skip sheathing. This was achieved by sandwiching acrylic sheets between two layers of 1x planks in a seamless application invisible to the untrained eye.

A secondary challenge was creating interior and exterior finishes closely matched to those of nearby historic Stockade Schoolhouse. The first step in achieving this was thoroughly documenting the details of Stockade – noting layers of paint and elements of detailed deterioration such as subtle discoloration from differential rates of water damage, ghosted “memories” of since-removed built-in shelving, and rows of rusted nails once holding shingles.

“Daydreams” at
Tippet Rise Art Center:

The basis of design,
Stockade School:

The second step was reviewing full-scale mockups with the client and contractor — Maximillian Anthon of JxM & Associates (who is also a CTA architect-in-training) — to determine the best “recipe” of finish techniques. The importance of having a contractor who was willing to experiment throughout the project cannot be understated.

“From artist to architectural designer to me as the contractor, this entire project was a study in open communication,” Anthon said. “And the results reflect this: a finished product that is as thorough as it is subtle. To stand inside the completed schoolhouse with the art now installed is an absolute wonder.”

The final step was a hands-on approach to construction administration, walking through subtle details and tweaks to the finished recipe with Tippet Rise staff, while Anthon worked on each element.

The bulk of the project spanned an unbelievably quick six months – the original phone call and feasibility studies in January 2015 and substantial construction completed by the end of June, with Dougherty’s installation beginning over the Fourth of July weekend (and lasting three weeks). To speed completion, the walls were pre-fabricated in Bozeman, MT, and shipped to the installation site.

The project team included CTA project manager Lesley Gilmore and designer Jimmy Talarico, and Jami Lorenz and Jon Lovgren from Beaudette Consulting Engineering (now DCI Engineers).

The “Daydreams” installation has won multiple awards and been featured by these sites/publications: