May 25 – September 4, 2023
Included in general admission
Fortopia, a playful outdoor exhibition comprised of awe-inspiring forts, invites explorers of all ages to uncover Powell Gardens. This vibrant edition to summer in Kansas City encourages outdoor discovery and taps into the nostalgia of childhood fort building.
After opening a public request for proposals, a jury selected four new fort designs for inclusion in the 2023 exhibition. Designed to inspire outdoor play, Powell Gardens is excited for visitors to experience Fortopia’s wonder through the variety of creative perspectives represented in the chosen forts. This year’s fort designers include a team of preschool children, artists, landscape designers, architects, and more.
Visit the Gardens many times to experience the forts in a different light throughout the changing seasons! Nestled on the East Lawn, visitors are encouraged to enjoy the Gardens in a new and playful way.
This year’s newly selected and returning forts focus on play. What will you discover as you climb, run, and slide at Powell Gardens?
Box City designed by City Playcorps
At the end of WWII, areas for children to play were in short supply. Children, being creative, played in bombed out buildings and construction sites. A Denmark designer, John Bertelsen, noticed this and took to creating junk playgrounds or “Skrammellegepladsen.” When these playgrounds made their way to England they were renamed “Adventure Playgrounds.”
Box City is designed by kids playing with boxes and recyclable materials to create their own adventure playground from leftover materials. City Playcorp drew the designs of this fort from previous play events they hosted around the KC metropolitan area. The fort represents cardboard boxes, and all the endless imagination children have with simple items.
Portal designed by Brandon Kirmer
As one travels through Portal they will experience the transformation, as if venturing off to a different land. The progression exists through the transformation of the different materials, starting within a “blanket” fort and moving through and out into a natural log fort, as if one’s imagination really did take over.
The surrounding landscape from the beginning to the end of the pathway also strengthens the idea of being in a different place suddenly. You start in an opening and end right next to the trees. Where will the portal take you next?
Skully the Pirate Ship designed by the enthusiastic preschool children of UMKC Berkley’s Zoo Room
This immersive fort structure transforms an open grassy lawn into a sea to be traversed by ship using found and reclaimed materials, and a little imagination. Skully the Pirate Ship entices visitors of all ages to climb on and interact with it. Sea monster’s tentacles rise out of the grass to wrap around the ship and provide a variety of climbing and hiding opportunities.
The concept for this fort is the result of passionate preschool children from the Zoo Room at Berkley CFDC at UMKC.
The Beehive designed by Celine & Ceanna Oberlechner (ages 11 & 9)
Sisters Celine and Ceanna enjoy visiting Powell Gardens. They designed The Beehive to represent the important work bees play in plant life. The women designed The Beehive to show how bees help keep the cycle of nature going and contribute to the beautiful flowers and plants on display at Powell Gardens. Bees are magnificent creatures that play a vital role in our world.
The House that Stands on Chicken Feet designed by the enthusiastic preschool children of UMKC Berkley Zoo Room
The energetic and motivated children from the Zoo Room at Berkley UMKC were inspired to create their own magical cottage in the woods after reading a classroom favorite book, Bony-Legs by Joanna Cole. The students sketched ideas, transformed the playground climber, used loose parts on the playground to create prototypes, and discussed the specifics of their plan. The children conceptualized each aspect of this fort from design concepts to building materials.
The Lucky Woodland Find: Morel Fort designed by UMKC’s Early Childhood Education team
UMKC Early Childhood Education’s Team disseminated a survey to over 100 early childhood education professionals, asking open-ended questions about their childhood memories playing in the wild and building forts. These survey results were analyzed for shared themes and unique experiences to inform the final design that evokes nostalgia for childhoods spent exploring nature and playing in forts.
TreeMendous Experience designed by DI Build and Kent Schumacher Designs
TreeMendous Experience is born of nature and ingenuity, utilizing remnants from the forest and upcycling abandoned material. This fort brings to light the amazing trees all around us. Viewers will feel the magnitude and awe of trees as they climb up through the tree fort. Inspiration for the design was drawn from multiple personal memories related to building forts in the designers’ youth and all the activities surrounding their time spent there.
Reflection Fort designed by Multi.Studio
Reflection Fort serves as a catalyst for the imagination of children, and to inspire the rekindling of this ability in adults. Our team challenged ourselves to create a space using simple materials that can be transformed into something fantastical with the active input and participation of each visitor regardless of physical ability.
More Ways to Explore
Location: Heartland Harvest Garden and Family Discovery Trail
Embrace the #MidwestSpiritOfPlace! Powell Gardens’ Midwest Foraging exhibition exemplifies and appreciates the natural landscape, focused on foragable plants. Take a self-guided Midwest Foraging Tour utilizing Garden Explorer. Use new blue plant tags to learn how to identify select plants in nature, why they are foraged, and fun facts along the way! This family friendly tour content was developed in collaboration with Powell Gardens’ expert Horticulture team.
Be certain to stop by the Marketplace on your way home to pick up a DIY foraging kit to apply what you learned on your own!
Know Before You Go
Powell Gardens is a place for outdoor discovery. As with all outdoor experiences, we recommend that all garden goers come prepared to enjoy their visit by wearing comfortable protective clothing, shoes, sunscreen and bug spray.
All visitors should follow signage to stay on designated paths, walkways and trails to avoid poison ivy and ticks. With no shortage of pollen and pollinator friends we recommend those with allergies take their medication prior to arrival and to carry their epidural pen at all times in the event of an emergency.
Bring everything you need for the day or stop in the Marketplace to snag what you forgot before you head outdoors. First aid supplies, food and beverages can be purchased in the Visitor Center. Drinking fountains are also located in the Visitor Center.
Come prepared to have fun, while staying safe!