Design competitions are an important aspect of our firm’s creative process. Competitions allow us to test new ideas and concepts in an unrestrained forum. The design process for the Fortlandia competition began with a pin-up and presentation of individual concepts. Everyone in the office had a chance to develop an idea and project narrative. An open voting process allowed us to narrow down the proposals and select a design that the entire office felt best met the objectives of the Fortlandia and the ethos of our design office. Once a general direction was selected, a smaller team was created to develop SKYFORT, from concept of submission.  We went through a few rounds developing our submission and checking in and receiving feedback with the team at large until we felt great about our proposal. We submitted SKYFORT and crossed our fingers.

The concept of SKYFORT itself grew out of a few self-defined goals.  As landscape architects, we as a group all share an infatuation with the Texas vernacular landscape.  We wanted to create a space that both told a story about the land and created opportunities to appreciate it.  SKYFORT is created from local materials that represent the life cycle of the post-oak savanna ecosystem. Forming the structure, straw bales express the ongoing role of grasses after their growing season. Following the installation, the straw bales will be reused by local farmers. Shou Sugi Ban lumber defines the inner spaces of SKYFORT, representing fire-breaks and expressing the role of fire in the post-oak savannah ecosystem. Aligned to the winter solstice, the pathways through SKYFORT remind visitors of the sun’s role in defining our seasons and giving life to plants and animals.

Secondly, we see temporary installations as testing grounds for creating unique spatial conditions.  Moreover, we love the freedom that art installations give us as designers to explore design without some of the typical complexities and constraints of a project.  Factoring into our designing throughout the process was the additional variable that we would also be the installers of the fort. This constraint pushed the design to a simple bold form, that we knew would be feasible to create.  Throughout the development we used small mock-ups and testing to ensure we could deliver the vision we proposed.

Finally, we wanted to create a space children could engage with.  We loved the idea of using scale to create passageways that were sized to children rather than adults.  We wanted to create a simple form with lots of corners and pathways that would encourage epic games of tag.  In the end, we hoped to create a simple space that could inspire all users.

By creating a strong conceptual narrative, we had a roadmap to answer design decisions throughout the process.  We found the narrative to be essential from the development of the submission all the way to construction of SKYFORT in the field.  We are thrilled to have been selected among a great collection of installations.