SKYFORT – a celebration of the intersection of sky and savanna through material, form and experience

Amidst the Savannah’s oaks the grassland rises; sky and land converge. Wander down the narrow passages and discover a frame to the sky – a lens through which to explore and dream.

Hosted by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, Fortlandia is a juried exhibition of temporary forts designed and built by artists, architects and designers. Meant to celebrate Central Texas’ native flora and fauna, the forts selected for the exhibition engaged visitors of all ages in play, creativity and deeper connection to the land. 

At dwg., we engage in design competitions as a way to explore and test new theoretical and technical ideas. During our competition meetings, all staff members are invited to present a concept for the design. An overall concept is then selected and developed through a series of design charrettes and discussions. Once a concept is finalized, we dive into production – creating plant palettes, modeling designs, developing renders and writing a narrative.

For Forlandia’s 2019-2020 season, we gained inspiration from the Texas diptych of sky and land, which has played a central role in the narrative of western explorers, artists and writers throughout time. In his 1857 work, A Journey Through Texas, Frederick Law Olmstead described the land as “swelling against the horizon,” while in 1866 William Cullen Bryan wrote of the prairies as a “Fitting floor / For this magnificent temple of the sky…” Melding our own experiences with those of earlier observers, we created SKYFORT – a celebration of the intersection of sky and savanna through material, form and experience.

SKYFORT was created from local materials that represent the life cycle of the post-oak savanna ecosystem. Forming the structure, straw bales expressed the ongoing role of grasses after their growing season. Following the installation, the straw bales were reused by local farmers. Shou Sugi Ban lumber defined the inner spaces of SKYFORT, representing fire-breaks and expressing the role of fire in the post-oak savanna ecosystem. Aligned to the winter solstice, the pathways through SKYFORT reminded visitors of the sun’s role in defining our seasons and giving life to plants and animals.

SKYFORT allowed for different types of experiences and interaction. The fort attracted the young at heart – racing and chasing around, in, and through. Others found a moment of peace in the space, as outside sounds dampened and the walls constricted to create a lens to the sky. Visitors ran their fingers along the bales, smelling the kicked up earth and the sunny scent of straw. The black of charred wood contrasted with the sky, making the Texas sky appear even more blue.

In SKYFORT, where sky and land converged, visitors explored, dreamed and felt a little more connected to our land.


Location: Austin, Texas, United States of America

Design Firm: dwg.

Credits: text and photos courtesy of dwg. 

About Damian Holmes 5733 Articles
Damian Holmes is the Founder and Editor of World Landscape Architecture (WLA). He is a registered landscape architect (AILA) working in international design practice in Australia. Damian founded WLA in 2007 to provide a website for landscape architects written by landscape architects. Connect on Linkedin at