Cushing Terrell: art and architecture converge at the Tippet Rise Art Center

Cushing Terrell,

Jimmy Talarico, Karl Neumann, Travis Estvold,

Fishtail, Montana, USA,


US architecture firm Cushing Terrell has built a structure for the Tippet Rise Art Center in Fishtail, Montana, to be used as the setting for a sculptor’s work. Designing it to be as unobtrusive as possible, the architects adopted sustainable solutions for the “Daydreams” Schoolhouse protecting the sculpture by artist Patrick Dougherty.

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Cushing Terrell: art and architecture converge at the Tippet Rise Art Center Tippet Rise Art Center is located in Fishtail, Montana, roughly midway between Billings and Bozeman and north of Yellowstone National Park. Tippet Rise celebrates the concept that art, music, architecture, and nature are inextricably linked in the human experience, each making the others more powerful. Set on a 48.5-square-kilometre working sheep and cattle ranch, Tippet Rise hosts classical chamber music and recitals and exhibits large-scale, outdoor sculptures, including artworks by Francis Kéré and Ensamble Studio.
It is also home to the “Daydreams” Schoolhouse, the structure designed by Cushing Terrell as the setting for the artwork of one of today’s most admired sculptors Patrick Dougherty, who uses saplings and sticks to build monumental structures that echo, play and tussle with the land. Dougherty literally worked with nature at Tippet Rise, crafting a new sculpture from local willows. Partially enclosed and protected from the Montana elements by a replica frontier-period schoolhouse, Dougherty’s piece seeks to embody the fundamental connection between art and nature, humans and landscape. 
The architecture designed by Cushing Terrell, so like the school buildings typical of Montana and the vast American prairies, almost imperceptibly blends into the majestic landscape. It minimizes its footprint by 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.
Dougherty creates ephemeral sculptures out of native saplings, so long-term deterioration of his work is expected. However, the client asked the design team to find a way to protect the interior from water infiltration to maximize the potential for its longevity. So the architects set out to achieve the level of protection needed for the sculpture. This is typically not particularly difficult because modern houses are almost all insulated. Still, when replicating a more than 100-year-old, deteriorated schoolhouse, the task becomes significantly more challenging. Even more so here, where the look of a deteriorated roof allowing natural light to filter into the interior through gaps was an essential part of the project. To achieve this, Cushing Terrell sandwiched acrylic sheets between two layers of planks in a seamless application invisible to the viewing audience. A secondary challenge was creating interior and exterior finishes closely matched to those of nearby historic Stockade Schoolhouse, to create an environment with enough visual traces to make us think of a layer of real memories from the past.
The structure that Cushing Terrell devised for artist Patrick Dougherty’s Daydreams embraces the philosophy of the Tippet Rise Art Center, where careful design melds with and respects the environment to bring us closer to art, thanks to the sounding board that is the nature of these places.

Christiane Bürklein

Project: Cushing Terrell
Artwork: Patrick Dougherty
Location; Fishtail, Montana, USA
Year: 2015
Images: Karl Neumann, Jimmy Talarico, Travis Estvold


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