Perkins&Will designs tubular play structure for Fortlandia at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Put A Kid On It!

Perkins&Will designs tubular play structure for Fortlandia at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Perkins&Will is among a host of local artists and architecture firms joining in on the fun at Fortlandia, a recently opened interactive outdoor experience that showcases clamber-worthy, curiosity-piquing installations that merge design, nature, and, perhaps most importantly, play, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. In total, nine ingenious play structures were selected via design competition to be realized in the latest edition of Fortlandia, now in its third year. All of the temporary installations are situated along a one-mile nature path within the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s sprawling Mollie Steves Zachry Texas Arboretum.

For its debut showing at Fortlandia, Perkins&Will conceived Tubes ‘n’ Tunnels, a safe, durable, and weather-resistant bamboo and steel fort installation nestled between two majestic live oaks that “bridges a connection between nature and the built environment to highlight how humans view the world” according to the firm. Just think of it as a secret hideaway-meets-human-sized hamster habitat with an emphasis on environmental education.

Anchoring the fort are four steel-supported bamboo tubes of various sizes and at various heights that kids (and their limber, hand sanitizer-lugging chaperones) can crawl or walk through as they explore the rest of the installation. Perkins&Will, working with a team of that included a structural engineer and steel fabricator, envisioned an installation that aims to foster imaginative play in a nature-enveloped setting while also giving a nod to the versatility and structural strength of sustainable building materials like bamboo. At the conclusion of Fortlandia, the locally-sourced bamboo used in Tubes ‘n’ Tunnels will be recycled along with the installation’s steel elements.

children and parents playing in a play structure
Framed by two live oaks, Perkins&Will’s fort can be accessed via a quartet of kid-sized tunnels of various sizes. (Courtesy Perkins&Will)

“For the development of Tubes ‘n’ Tunnels at Fortlandia, our team at Perkins&Will sought to amplify the beauty of the natural environment through the conception of an interactive and playful installation that unites people of all ages” Lynn Petermann, project architect at Perkins&Will, told AN. “We’re proud to have designed an immersive experience that promotes connectivity with its surroundings while shedding light on sustainability.”

The other eight Fortlandia installations, selected by a panel of judges, were designed and built by architectural design firm Fourth Workshop, letterpress design studio Letterpress PLAY, architecture firm Mark Odom Studio, woman-owned and -led architecture firm Point B Studio, Pollen Architecture & Design, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Thalweg LLC with Blue Sky Design & Build, and architecture firm Webber + Studio, Inc. As mentioned, all the architects and designers tapped for this year’s experience are Austin-based. While headquartered in Chicago, Perkins&Will maintains studios in both Austin and Dallas.

In addition to the featured installations, Fortlandia features a dedicated area that allows young builders to create their own forts using materials like bamboo, branches, and wooden blocks. “Passfort” field journals are also available to all guests.

illustration on parents and kids exploring a play structure
A design rendering of Tubes ‘n’ Tunnels. (Courtesy Perkins&Will)

Fortlandia opened to the public on October 3 and runs through the end of January 2021. Entry to the exhibit is including in regular entry to the University of Texas at Austin-operated Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which is observing various safety guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic including requiring all visitors over the age of ten to don a face mask when indoors or when social distancing isn’t possible.

More information can be found here.