Tippet Rise Schoolhouse
The schoolhouse replicates a late 1800's one-room Montana schoolhouse and provides a relatively protected interior space to house a sculpture made of saplings. The structure is the the protector, the backdrop, and the inspiration of Patrick Dougherty’s commissioned sculpture. The intertwined pieces reside onsite at Tippet Rise, a sprawling art center in Fishtail, Montana.
Situated on a working ranch, it was important that the project be constructed in a way that minimized the disturbance of the landscape. This involved maintaining a small job site footprint and using eco-friendly solutions for weathering the exterior wood, such as corn cob grit blasting. With few interior lights and no mechanical or plumbing system, the project has nearly no impact on its environment. It is a passive inhabitant of its ecosystem.
The most difficult problem for this project was determining the level of protection needed for the sculpture while creating a building that looks like it has been beaten by the weather. The artist makes ephemeral sculptures out of native saplings, so long-term deterioration of his work was assumed. However, the artist requested that we 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 100+ year old deteriorated schoolhouse the task becomes more challenging. One element that our client wanted to preserve was the look of a deteriorated roof that allowed 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.
The other challenge was creating interior and exterior finishes that closely matched those of the nearby historic Stockade Schoolhouse. The first step in this process was thoroughly documenting the existing school, 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 that once held shingles. The second step was reviewing full scale mock-ups with the client and contractor 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. The final step was a hands on approach to construction administration, walking through subtle details and tweaks to the finish “recipe” with the client as the contractor worked on each element.