Architects Built This Monumental Land Art By Imitating Geological Processes

The structures, part of Tippet Rise Art Center, were created by man-made versions of erosion, fragmentation and sedimentation.

On the Southern edge of Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park and at the foot of the hulking Beartooth Mountains, the Tippet Rise Art Center is preparing to open later this month. Set on a working ranch, the center will be home to a number of site specific sculptures–like Patrick Dougherty’s whimsical Daydreams, woven from local willows–and will host a rotating program of classical music.


Also dotting the 11,000-acre ranch are a series of Structures of Landscape designed by Antón García-Abril and Débora Mesa, the architects behind the experimental studio Ensamble Studio. They will serve as both land art and outdoor music venues. Designed as massive, craggy, beautiful extensions of the rough Montana landscape, the architectural structures were inspired by the same geological processes that formed their surroundings: sedimentation, fragmentation, and erosion.

“It’s a place where nature rules,” says Mesa, noting that the landscape is rough, there’s hardly any vegetation, and the temperatures are either extremely hot or freezing cold. “Everything is subject to wildlife, weather, landscape, the topography. We didn’t want to stop those processes, but just to add to them.”

Mesa and García-Abril designed 30 structures as part of a still-evolving, long-term plan for Tippet Rise, but at this point have only completed two: the Beartooth Portal and Inverted Portal. Both about 16 feet tall, they resemble two massive rocks leaning against one another. They were created through a man-made process mirroring sedimentation: the masses are built from layers and layers of concrete, soil, and rock. Workers constructed the forms flat on the earth and then erected them once they were fully formed.

Domo, a third structure that’s near completion, was cast from the existing landscape. To imitate the natural process of erosion, the architects created a mold out of the earth by digging into the ground and filling the hole with concrete. They then removed the surrounding soil to reveal the structure.

With Structures of Landscape, Ensamble–who are also behind Truffle, a cave-like dwelling dug into the earth–hope to show that its possible to build architectural structures without disturbing the landscape. “Some people look at it and think it’s a sculpture, and it’s part of the arts program,” says Mesa. “Others, they think they belong as part of the landscape.”


About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.