LBJ Wildflower Center – Fortlandia 2022: The Tree Free Fort

Fortlandia is an annual installation of custom-designed forts brought to life by the imagination and craftsmanship of local architects, designers, and artists. Nestled within the playful Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas, these forts serve as a testament to creativity and community collaboration.

In 2022, Studio Balcones embarked on a fort-building adventure inspired by a family memory from Studio Director Michael Meihaus. This nostalgic memory traces back to a family road trip when ten year old Michael and his sister persuaded the family station wagon to pull over for an impromptu stop on a country road in Missouri so that they could climb and play on the large round hay bales in a field. This brief bit of magical play was the highlight of the trip! 

Inspired by this sweet family memory, Michael teamed up with his dad, playground designer and builder Robert Meihaus, to recreate the alchemy of that moment for all of Austin to experience at Fortlandia!  

Made of all upcycled materials, salvage, and post manufactured grass products, this Tree Free Fort aimed to reduce the human pressure on our wild and managed forests, prairies, water and soil. This temporary play structure was built with materials that will biodegrade, be repurposed to extend their natural life cycle, or be eaten. Every material used in its construction was chosen with a thoughtful plan for its end-of-life journey.

Photo by Roger Ho

Once the Fortlandia installation was complete, we sold the hay at a large discount since it was such a bad drought year for feed. The recycled decking and lumber was used by Ridwell for demos and exhibits of their material upcycling programs. The bamboo and natural fiber rope was used for tree staking at Studio Balcones’ office site, the Baker Center in Hyde Park and other landscape projects, or composted. The remaining materials were responsibly recycled by Ridwell and Studio Balcones. 

The Tree Free Fort symbolizes creativity, sustainability, and a shared commitment to preserve our environment. It invites you to experience a cherished family memory through the lens of a sustainable legacy—a tribute to the enduring joy of childhood adventures and our collective responsibility for the planet.