Fortlandia Brings the Art of the Fort to the Fore

Outdoor exhibit returns to the Wildflower Center

Every child has carefully constructed a hideout out of couch cushions and blankets. Sadly, not every kid grows up and is given $10,000 to create the fortress of their dreams. Returning for its second year, Fortlandia at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center empowers local designers to do just that, and kids and adults are invited to enjoy the results.

Fortlandia organizer Tanya Zastrow posing inside Color Keep designed by TwoPlus Collaborative and MUDLAB with the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture (Photo by Addie Costello)

Thirty applicants pitched their designs and underwent the scrutiny of judges until only 10 fort finalists remained. Those selected will decorate the trail of the arboretum from October 5 until January 26.

Along with visits to forts with names like Fortmosa and Color Trail, kids will have the chance to work on Passfort booklets at each stop. Passforts are new to the Fortlandia experience and pose questions like “What would you name this fort?” on every page to encourage kids to take their time observing the creations. Kids can also put their construction skills to the test in the Fort Build which is open year-round and provides all of the essential, kid-friendly outdoor building materials one needs.

Event organizer and director of programs at the Wildflower Center, Tanya Zastrow remembers building forts out of snow while growing up in Wisconsin. Although many of Fortlandia’s visitors will never see enough snow to roll a snowball, Zastrow encourages fort building of any kind.

“I think it’s important for kids to disconnect from our electronics and TVs and just play, and not be told how to play,” says Zastrow.

Passfort and Fort Build may be geared towards kids, but Zastrow wants to make clear that Fortlandia is for all ages. An adults-only event on October 11 gives grownups a chance to rule over Fortlandia while climbing trees and consuming alcohol (hopefully in that order). However, good luck to anyone over 5 feet who tries to squeeze inside Fairy Pavilion.

“The idea is just to come out experience our arboretum,” says Zastrow, “To look at the landscape and appreciate our Texas trees.”

Artist Blair Patterson includes Texas plant life into her fort by using only native area plants, compost, and food to dye and construct her two ship-like forts. Sailors aboard Patterson’s Fortmosa can send messages to one another by whispering into silver tubes sticking up from both structures.

Fortmosa, designed by artist Blair Patterson (Photo by Addie Costello)

Instead of using plant life to build Fairy Pavilion, artist James Edward Talbot constructed the fort’s roof out of cans he collected on bike rides. The pavilion includes around 3,000 littered cans. Talbot also managed to find an alternative purpose for CDs in the age of Spotify, dangling them from tree branches to create whimsical lighting.

“Keep an open mind because all of the forts are very different,” says Zastrow. Although the designs share few similarities many incorporate a message of sustainability. Like Fortmosa’s organic materials and Fairy Pavilion’s aluminum roof, Hatch Workshop's Flitch Fort uses repurposed materials. Their hideout’s walls are made of thinly cut pieces of repurposed wood, called flitch, from a tree that had fallen in an Austin cemetery.

Skyfort, designed by landscape architecture group dwg., contains 400 bales of straw that will be used in the Wildflower Center’s garden beds after Fortlandia ends. The group’s towering structure also pays tribute to the conservation efforts of the arboretum. The wood used in the fort was treated with an ancient Japanese burning technique for preservation, similar to the prescribed burns used to preserve the natural landscape of the Wildflower Center.

In the spirit of preservation, Fortlandia runs a month shorter this year to give the land time to recover before wildflower season. Despite the shortened exhibit time, Zastrow still hopes to top last year's 60,000 visitors to the event.

“Go in the forts, look up, look down, look around because it frames the natural world in a different way that's unique and fun,” encourages Zastrow. “It helps you to see our Texas landscape in a different way.”

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Fortlandia, Family Event, Forts, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

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