The program requirements for this project, installed at the newly established, 11,500-acre Tippet Rise Art Center, were simple: replicate a late-1800s, one-room Montana schoolhouse to provide a relatively protected interior space for housing an original Patrick Dougherty sculpture made of saplings.
It was important the schoolhouse – and the overall installation – create authenticity, a fact Dougherty acknowledged: “Building a sculpture is building an illusion,” he said. “You want to make it a powerful enough illusion so that people, in fact, really want to come running.”
The most difficult task was determining the level of protection needed for the sculpture while creating a building appearing to have been beaten by a century of weather. Dougherty requested the team find a method of protecting the interior from water infiltration so as to maximize the potential for its longevity. Typically easy, when replicating a more than 100-year-old deteriorated schoolhouse, the task becomes more challenging.
One element deemed important 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 the nearby historic Stockade Schoolhouse.
The process included: (1) 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 once holding shingles; (2) reviewing full-scale mock-ups with the client and contractor to determine the best “recipe” of finish techniques; and (3) a hands-on approach to construction administration, walking through subtle details and tweaks to the finished recipe.