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Competition: Montello Desert Waypoint, Nevada

The Montello Foundation has launched an open international student contest for a $15,000 multi-purpose installation in the Nevada desert (Deadline: 28 February)

Open to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled during the 2017-2018 academic year, the competition seeks proposals for a 23m² structure that could host temporary exhibitions, local meetings and provide a rest and contemplation space for travellers and residents.

The project aims to provide a satellite space for the arts foundation, which operates a remote retreat around 24km from the 3ha contest site. The winning team will work with the foundation to construct their scheme close to Montello village on Nevada State Route 233.

Contest site

Contest site

Contest site

The competition brief reads: ‘When we travel, it is in our nature to seek points of rest, to reorient ourselves. We want to understand the place we are traversing; but we also want to focus our mind on the original purpose of our journey rather than just on the logistics and technicalities of our transportation. Historically these waypoints were of course often created in a spiritual or religious context, recognising the need to provide a focus for hope. This waypoint should centre around a focus on nature, both the wide vistas as well as delicate details.

‘Although relatively small in comparison to the expanse of land and sky, the structure will address the relationship of the individual to this landscape, as well as with other visitors. The architecture will attempt to engage the individual with these spaces (both interior and exterior) and serve as a meeting point in fostering exchanges that may be self-conscious or quite incidental, with other people (present or not) in the thematic concept of nature’s fragility.’

Montello is a small village of around 80 inhabitants on the Nevada State Route 233 in Elko County. The settlement is surrounded by cattle ranches and features two small bars and a motel.

The Montello Foundation was set up around 10 years ago as an organisation to support artists focusing on nature, its fragility and the need to protect it. The foundation operates a 32ha hermitage for artists residencies which is only accessible via a 24km dirt track road.

The latest project aims to provide a new ‘waypoint’ structure where passing visitors can reflect on their journeys while also witnessing artworks. The space could also be used as a meeting place and forum for local residents.

Contest site

Contest site

Contest site

Proposals for the structure should harness natural light and provide suitable space for hanging 2D artworks. Plumbing is not required but solar power will be necessary to provide lighting.

Applications should include a single A1 board featuring a 150-word project description along with 3D views, conceptual drawings, a site plan, plans, elevations, and sections.

Judges will include Benjamin Aranda of Aranda\Lasch, Ali Hocek of ACHA New York and Susanne Wagner of Bauereignis Sütterlin Wagner Berlin along with a foundation board member and a representative from the village.

The overall winner – to be announced 30 April – will receive $2,500 while a second place prize of $1,000 and three special mentions worth $500 each will also be awarded.

How to apply


The registration deadline is 28 February and submissions must be completed by 18 March



Contact details

Stefan Hagen
Montello Foundation
195 Chrystie St #303M
New York
NY 10002

Tel: (+1) 347 645 6510

Visit the competition website for more information

Writtle Calling case study: Q&A with Matthew Butcher

The architectural designer discusses lessons learned creating a temporary art installation for Writtle College in Essex, England

How did your Writtle Calling project deliver and innovate a contextual events space for artists?

Writtle Calling:/2emmatoc was a temporary radio station and structure sited in the Essex landscape during September 2012. The station hosted a series of broadcasts and live events by artists, writers, musicians and scientists. The structure was sited in the grounds of Writtle College, Essex, near the site of the first regular public radio broadcasts by Marconi Engineers in 1922.

Writtle Calling by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton

Writtle Calling by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton

Source: Image by Tim Brotherton

Writtle Calling by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton

From the beginning of the project’s development, we set out to produce an architecture that resonated with, as well as highlighted, the very particular historical condition and the physical characteristics of the landscape were it was sited. By using this context creatively and experimentally, the project sought to generate a complex layering of history, architecture, landscape, inhabitation and event. Through this we aimed to create a project that challenged tradition spaces for performance and was explicitly site-specific, external to the gallery institutions and accessible to a very broad audience.

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

Writtle Calling existed as an architecture of an open frame, formed as much by the building as by the weather, inhabitation, performance and radio waves, where the edge of the architecture is not defined entirely by the edges of the wooden and scaffold platform, but is extended by the invisible landscape of electromagnetic radio waves.

We also wanted to explore the role of the viewer/user in the activation of a ‘work’; ideas instigated by John Cage with the invention of the ‘Happening’ in the 1950s and then expanded upon by artists like Allan Kaprow in works such as Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts (1959).

Writtle Calling by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton

Writtle Calling by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton

Source: Image by Nick Cunard

Writtle Calling by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton

Also critical to the work was the curation of the broadcasts and events that took place within the projects live programme. Each artist, academic, writer and historian was asked to produce a work or broadcast that would resonate with the themes we were trying to explore, with particular regard to the landscape at Writtle and the history of broadcasting.

What advice would you have to participants on designing an exhibition and contemplation structure in Nevada?

Try to develop the project from a very personal ambition for what you believe a space for exhibition or/and contemplation should be. Also, try to challenge any accepted conventions for what these types of spaces are expected to be like.

Writtle Calling by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton

Writtle Calling by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton

Source: Image by Nick Cunard

Writtle Calling by Matthew Butcher and Melissa Appleton

Q&A with Ali C Höcek

The juror and adviser discusses his ambitions for the contest

Ali C. Höcek

Ali C. Höcek

Ali C. Höcek

Why are you holding a contest for a desert waypoint structure?

In a world where every moment is located in time and place, the desert offers the absence, or even a different calibration, of both. In its otherness, it offers challenges that are fitting for a competition, creating a forum for the exchange of ideas. Certainly, many of us use the profession to experiment and explore ideas of time and place, together with other facets of architecture: material, form, use, etc.

By inviting students, the competition is engaging people who are themselves between a specific time and place – in the transience of academia, not yet full participants in their profession and, perhaps, in life itself. By extending the competition internationally, we hope to draw students who may be unfamiliar with this American landscape, and who may bring to the project other sensibilities and perceptions through their designs.

What is your vision for the new contemplation and exhibition space?

The structure will in some part be an enclosed area, approximately 250 sq ft (23m²) on a plot of 7.5 acres (3ha), with natural light and sufficient wall space suitable for mounting flat artworks. Relatively small in comparison to the expanse of land and sky, the structure will address the relationship of the individual to this landscape. We expect it to foster exchanges that may be self-conscious or quite incidental, highlighting the competition’s thematic concept of nature’s fragility. The remoteness of place and the unforgiving climate require the student designers to consider how and with what materials they might build. As such, innovation and experimentation are essential, as is respect for, and connection to, the environment.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

In addition to providing a built environment that will engage travellers, locals, and visiting artists, the Montello Foundation anticipates the competition will also serve as a means for students to foster ideas. The hope is that they may serve them in furthering the discovery of their voices as designers, as well as explore issues that will serve their careers and provoke others. The uniqueness of the location (from the perspective of a design competition) and the thoughtfulness it inspires, coupled with the foundation’s singular offering for artists, makes for a very unusual project that should cause interest in the designers’ portfolios and contribute to their abilities to make their names on this project. The foundation is committed to submitting these designs to both online and print venues, as a means of providing exposure to the students and their work.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

Competitions and projects of this nature are essential to the Montello Foundation’s mission, which is dedicated to supporting artists who foster an understanding of nature, its fragility and our need to protect it. In this current political atmosphere, which is actively reversing historical efforts to protect large parts of the natural landscape in the United States, there is much to anticipate coming from architects, artists, and like-minded foundations – including those who might participate in future retreats offered by the foundation.

Are there any desert pavilion projects you have been impressed by?

Many projects come to mind. I could possibly place them in three categories: those that are indifferent to the landscape, are resistant to it, or those that behave with similar attributes. Among these, Steven Holl’s Turbulence House from 2005 comes to mind – prefabricated offsite, it exists in two iterations, one in the New Mexican desert and the other in Vicenza, Italy. The other is a phone booth in the Mojave Desert, the story of which was aired by 99 Percent Invisible, ‘Mojave Phone Booth,’ Episode 202, March 1, 2016. Richard Long’s ‘Circle in Africa,’ 1978 is certainly relevant, as is an igloo.

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