External view of Tippet Rise Art Center

A 12,000-acre working ranch sits at the base of the Beartooth Mountains in Montana, USA, home to a diversity of grassland fauna and flora, as well as intimate musical performance venues and a collection of large-scale sculptures. 

Founded by artists and philanthropists Cathy and Peter Halstead, the Tippet Rise Art Center is shaped by a commitment to the arts, resource conservation and land stewardship. 

Landscape architects OvS’ master plan sought to work with the land, rather than against it. Together with a multidisciplinary team, which includes Gunnstock Timber Frames and ARUP, the result is a ‘lost paradise’ that welcomes visitors and encourages their interaction with the surrounding. 

Collage of Tippet Rise Art Center with map
Photo credit clockwise from top left: Ovs and Satellite | Pioneer, 2016 by Stephen Talasnik | Erik Petersen | 2016 Tippet Rise & OvS.

“Given its enormous size and 'Big Sky', the site offers no relatable sense of scale. The colossal setting injects an unmatched level of drama, yet thoroughly devours any human interventions of structure, art, or topography,” the 2018 American Society of Landscape Architects’ (ASLA) Professional Awards note. 

“The primary challenge was how to make this site accessible, visually legible, and sustainable without diminishing its remote and untamed beauty.”

Collage of outdoor rural images of Tippet Rise Art Center
Photo credit: OvS

A sensitive application of ecological principles was required to achieve this fine balance. The OvS team began with a period of immersion—absorbing the scale of the site by foot, bicycle and car. Their study of the natural variations in the land and an exhaustive site analysis led to the clear creation of design objectives and program components, which began their life on paper, pencil and watercolour. 

Artists-impression-of-Tippet-Rise-Art-Center-1.jpg
​Photo credit: OvS

Today, a series of sculptures are scattered across the property, with the tallest reaching 60 feet high and longest extending 98 feet. The gateway to this art collection is a cloister of buildings—including a 150-seat performance venue and an acoustic shell for outdoor music performances—that are strategically revealed and concealed within their surroundings as visitors move throughout the ranch. 

Because the property only receives 16 inches of rain and snow every year, sustainable water management strategies were a priority. To this end, a rainwater storage system was created below the venue’s parking area, capturing, storing and redistributing surface runoff for irrigation and the property’s toilets. 

“A 8,000 square-foot photovoltaic solar canopy, designed collaboratively with the project architect, supplies the power for the venue’s fleet of electric vehicles,” OvS adds. 

“New site elements, such as Corten steel posts of a curvilinear fence, are a nod to the rusted metal and weathered wood fences on the ranch.”

External facade view of Tippet Rise Art Center
Before and After: Working with existing landforms, the landscape architect collaborated with the project team to strategically locate and site architectural elements. Photo credit: OvS.

To re-establish any grassland disturbed by construction, the team devised a site renewal process that saw the soil on some locations stripped and stockpiled for later use. According to the ASLA, subsoiling reduced construction compaction to 24 inches. In addition, high-performance grasses were planted to accommodate sustainable grazing practices and human habitation. 

Outdoor rural image of Tippet Rise Art Center
Before and After: The site of the Tiara capitalizes on the original hedgerow as an acoustic buffer and allows for increased tree canopy. The dual planting strategy maximises grasses and forbs for the concert season while accommodating grazing in early spring. Photo credit: OvS.

“The culmination of visionary clients and a dedicated multidisciplinary team, Tippet Rise serves as a testimony to the coexistence of art, music and sustainable land stewardship,” the 2018 ASLA Awards jury concludes.

“Carefully crafted interventions are frequently imperceptible. Site elements, paths, and trails feel as though they were always there—'natural'—yet capitalise on the site's terrain, vistas, and vantage points.”