Fishtail, United States
Jon Leach / AECOM, Gunnstock Timber / Laura Viklund, Gunnstock Timber / Chris Gunn, Oheme , Van Sweden / Liz Stetson, On Site Management Inc.
Tippet Rise Art Center
Iwan Baan , Erik Petersen
Francis Kéré and his team at Kéré Architecture designed Xylem Pavilion, the visitors’ shelter for the Tippet Rise Art Center, as a quiet, protective canopy. Named to evoke the vital internal layers of a tree’s living structure, Xylem Pavilion is a place where visitors of this vast outdoor art space can gather to converse, or sit and contemplate in solitude.
How to go about achieving this was informed by the wish to give a nod to the kindred aspects within the cultural practices at Tippet Rise Art Center and those in Francis Kéré’s home town of Gando. Simultaneously massive yet light, the roof is inspired by the tuguna, a sacred gathering space of many small Burkinabè communities – a low-level wood and straw shelter that offers protection from the sun while allowing for ventilation. Depending on the community’s need it serves as event center, town hall, informal gathering area or cultural space.
For Xylem Pavilion, the canopy is fashioned from logs that are grouped in circular bundles within a modular hexagonal structure in weathering steel, supported by seven steel columns. The upper surface of the canopy is carved sinuously to blend into the surrounding hills. The material used and the form of the structure achieve the additional objective of seamlessly merging the pavilion with its surrounding landscape. An interplay of nature’s design and human-made architecture.
Both in the objective of use and the objective of design the project creates gentle connections and establishes respectful relationships between seemingly distant realms.
Located in a slightly sunken landform between the main facilities of the Tippet Rise Art Centre, a vast outdoor art centre stretching across 12,000 acres in southcentral Montana, just north of Yellowstone National Park, and the start of its hiking tracks, Xylem Pavilion nestles in a clearing surrounded by aspen trees, facing a small creek.
The project is the result of an extensive exchange between client and architect. The former having come across the latter’s work at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark, where Francis Kéré had created a wooden canopy to host a presentation about his architectural practice, that would go on to inspire Xylem Pavilion itself.
Intrigued both by the design and the larger context of the work, the project was to represent a twin in spirit to the Naaba Belem Goumma Secondary School being built in parallel in Francis Kéré’s birthplace, Gando.
As is his approach in Gando, Xylem Pavilion is made with material abundant and overlooked in its locality. In Burkina Faso Francis Kéré works to reclaim clay as a contemporary building material, and in Montana he turned to sustainably sourced pine. The wood used for the entire pavilion, locally sourced by collecting dead trees killed by the mountain pine bark beetle, is here used in its raw state. Local and familiar it is a material for which the necessary knowledge of how to handle it existed within the region, allowing for innovative use of it, which built on expertise, expanding it in the process.
Since its opening the Xylem Pavilion has become an integral part of the Tippet Rise Art Center’s programming and landscape. Numerous events have been held across poetry and music or simple gatherings.
Their allure is aided by sunlight filtering through the vertical logs, creating a soft play of light and shadow on the curvilinear seating and polished concrete circular platform below. The spatial complexity of the carved wooden seating elements encourages visitors to explore different views of the surrounding landscape as was intended. Being exposed to the elements, the pavilion’s character follows the cycle of nature. Overlain with a soft blanket of snow in winter, the structure takes on a different nuance to when it provides intricately patterned shade in summer.
The wood too has continued living, changing its hue and morphing further into something resembling the surrounding nature it came from, rather than looking like freshly cut timber as it did at the beginning.
The Xylem Pavilion has also proven rather fitting to the most recent, immense changes to humankind’s understanding of space, caused by Covid-19, which has seen a weariness of enclosed indoor public space. Here is a cultural space that can accommodate both gathering and distance, proving it to be adaptable to the changes in objectives that few foresaw.
During the trying global times, the ties created between the community around the Xylem Pavilion and the one in Gando has also stood strong with additional sanitary supplies being offered and delivered from the US to Burkina Faso.