Montana State University

New Hyalite picnic pavilion proves there is grace in collaboration

August 4, 2010 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

The new Hyalite Pavilion, which was designed and largely built by students from the MSU School of Architecture, fits into its setting on the west shore of the Hyalite Reservoir Dam near Bozeman. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Sometimes cooperation can appear to be awkward, but the new Hyalite Pavilion that now sits on the west shoreline of Hyalite Reservoir Dam near Bozeman proves that collaboration also can be striking.

Two years in the planning, design and building, the public picnic pavilion was a partnership of the Montana State University School of Architecture, the Gallatin National Forest and a host of local construction professionals.

"I think the pavilion complements and fits its setting very well," said Jane Ruchman, the Gallatin National Forest Developed Recreation Program Manager and Forest Landscape Architect of the timber, rock and iron facility. "Not only will the Bozeman community love it, but I think it will become one of our most popular facilities."

The 20 feet by 50 feet structure with seating for 25 people looks different from other Forest Service structures because it was designed by students in the MSU School of Architecture. The students also built the structure over a full year with help from engineers and contractors in what Ruchman calls "true real-world experience."

Designed to blend into its surroundings, the structure features masonry rock walls and fireplace, custom-designed and fabricated picnic benches and barbecue grills. Even the bolted connections in the beams are specially designed and made for the site, according to Bruce Wrightsman, the MSU architecture professor who supervised the 24 students working on the project.

"The students put a lot of thought into the design," Wrightsman said. "They are very proud of it."

The structure is large enough to accommodate small family reunions or even wedding parties, but will also be popular with solitary skiers hoping to get out of the snow or wind after a frigid ski, since the road to Hyalite Reservoir is plowed and in use all year.

Wrightsman said the experience included a lot of tough, real-world situations for the students, including long weather delays and working with a number of clients, some of whom weren't receptive to the design when MSU students proposed it two years ago.

As tough of some of their challenges were, they also were invaluable experiences, according to Matt Aune, a recent MSU architecture graduate who is now working at Fentress Architects in Denver. Aune was one of the student leaders on the project. He said the experience helped him become a better architect.

"This process taught me that regardless of profession, people are always willing to help and invest in their community," said Aune, who added that the final design met both local and national Forest Service Guidelines. "The Hyalite Pavilion is great example of the marrying of context-sensitive design and functionality."

Chelsie Lough, also a recent MSU architecture graduate and student leader on the project, agreed that working on the project was invaluable in her education.

"Working on a structure that would be built made me understand that there are a lot of aspects of a real project, as opposed to a model for school, that you don't have to consider on a project that isn't real," Lough said. "I think it will make me a better architect."

"When you have real clients, real money, you have to pay attention to more of the details," Lough said. "You understand the level of detail that it required."

Both Aune and Lough were thankful for guidance, instruction and time donated by Nishkian Monks Engineering, Dick Anderson Construction, and Anderson Masonry. Other contractors who donated time to the project were Great West Engineering, Allied Engineering Services, John Mills of Select Stone, Kerry Hughes of Northwest Concrete Services and Mike Combs, a steel fabricator from Sore Elbow Forge.

The gracefulness of the final product seemed unlikely several years ago when the dam access was redone. Ruchman noticed a need for a covered picnic shelter in the dry, rocky area that was popular because it is located off the first dam parking lot, a natural stopping spot for people approaching from Bozeman.

"But it was hot because it was located in the rocky dam overflow area where there were no trees," she said. "I knew we needed a shelter."

Ruchman, who is a landscape architect, thought that the project might be a good one for students in the MSU School of Architecture. School administrators selected Wrightsman who had worked on an award-winning design for a community outreach architecture project when he was a professor at the University of Colorado, to head a design workshop that took on the shelter and the building process that followed. When members of the community and the various constituents first met with the students to discuss the design at an architectural charrete, they were critical of the design that was proposed. Aune said that, too, was a good learning experience for the students, and as a result, the final design was strengthened.

The shelter is part one of a two-part project, Ruchman said. Phase two, which includes hardscaping and landscaping, will be completed by next spring. That, too, will be a collaborative project involving MSU's Western Transportation Institute as well as the Department of Environmental Quality. It will include a grading and hardscaping made with fly ash, a by-product of coal-fired power plants, as well as recycled glass.

Aune said he expects the pavilion will be a popular spot for decades to come, and he one day hopes to bring his future family to show them the structure.

"(I was surprised by) the willingness of the community to donate both time and money to help better their community and teach us students in a time where both time and money have been difficult to come by," Aune said.

"The project gave all involved an experience seldom found in any professional endeavor or institution. It also gave me a great perspective, one that let me see that students can do great things, especially when they can be teamed with great collaborators and mentors."

To read other stories about MSU architecture students and their projects, see:

MSU partners with Kenyan organizations to solve housing crisis in Africa's largest slum

MSU architecture students help design school at the top of the world

Canned: MSU students build structure that breaks Guinness record

Bruce Wrightsman (406) 994-4220,