The Making of an Ice Shanty, Step Two: Design

This winter TruexCullins participated in the Shelburne Museum’s Ice Shanty Project, and we have been sharing the steps we took that led to the construction of our own ice fishing shanty.  Our first step, detailed in this blog post, inspired us to get started.  In Step Two, we developed our ideas into a single solution.  This is the design process.


A tiny gem of a project like this tends to make the whole office glow.  The freedom to pursue unorthodox ideas sparked our creativity, while the constraints of relying on our own pocketbook and our own building skills gave us rare insight into the owners and contractors we work with every day.

By assuming all 3 roles of the typical project triad (owner/contractor/architect), we were afforded the opportunity to experiment with our design methodology and the tools we use to realize our designs.  Looking back at our process that emerged, we distilled a helpful framework for the design of an ice shanty (or of anything, for that matter) to a handful of ‘design states’:  Situate, Iterate, Collaborate and Refine.

What follows is a very basic template for a not-necessarily-linear sequence of general design activities that anyone can use to help guide their process.

What are the specific conditions that situate the project in the world?  This is when all the information needed to start design is gathered and analyzed; the majority of this work is usually done early on in the process, but any new information helps to further situate the design.

On a larger project this would entail gathering a large amount of data and constraints (topography, codes/zoning, available labor/materials, client meetings/questionnaires, contracts, etc.).  When TruexCullins was invited to the Shelburne Museum’s exhibition: “32°: The Art of Winter”, we were given just three parameters.  First, we were tasked with reimagining the iconic archetype of the ice fishing shanty.  We were also given $1,000 for materials, and although we could spend more if we chose, we preferred the challenge of sticking to a budget (spoiler alert: we did).  And lastly, we were given a dimension of 6’-10” x 12’-0”, which was the size of the trailer that the museum graciously offered to transport our shanty to their grounds.  These conceptual, financial and spatial constraints helped situate our shanty and guided our design process moving forward.

shanty-part2_fig1Figure 1: Early Hand Sketches

shanty-part2_fig2Figure 2: Wood, Plastic and Corrugated Cardboard Detail Models

shanty-part2_fig3Figure 3: Cardboard Massing and Screen Panel Models


Once the project is situated, what forms, materials and ideas best fit that context?  This is a fairly right-brained, introverted exercise of brainstorming, through numerous sketches, models and sometimes words.

We all worked separately at first, getting our ideas out by any means necessary.  As is evident from these images, precision was not as important as production at first; we began by crudely cutting, gluing or scribbling on anything within reach, from post-it notes to cereal boxes.  Later iterations of certain concepts were developed with the use of (still crude) computer modelling and rendering.  The main goal of this state is to get all of the great (and not-so-great) ideas out of your head and onto paper so that you can share them with others to get feedback.

shanty-part2_fig4Figure 4: Computer Rendering of Tiling Concept

shanty-part2_fig5Figure 5: Cardboard Study Model and Computer Rendering of Perforation Concept


Once you have a handful of concepts on paper, it’s time to collaborate and test those ideas against the knowledge of your peers.  No person is an island.

After a couple weeks of working in solitude we all gathered at our conference table, barely visible beneath the fruits of our labor, to share and critique our ideas.  The people at that table spanned the vertical hierarchy of our firm, but the design process was truly horizontal and allowed each of us an equal say in direction from the very beginning.

We began by looking for recurring themes or concepts that could easily be merged.  The differences between the proposals were many and vast, but we discovered that a few common trends became evident.  After much impassioned discussion and communicative sketching, we decided that we could move forward on a united front with a few concepts:

1) Perhaps it is the images of ice that one conjures when contemplating ice fishing that led to the unavoidable fact that our shanty would deploy some type of faceted, angular geometry.

2) Another theme that became clear as we surveyed the conference table clutter was a clear expression of skin, bones and the ligature between; an “honest” structure.

3) Despite the charge of creating an artistic folly, we were determined to let the practicality of the task within (ice fishing), shape the object…after all, form follows function, right?

shanty-part2_fig6Figure 6: Scale Wood Structural model

shanty-part2_fig7Figure 7: Full Scale Detail Mock-Ups of Panel Connections

shanty-part2_fig8Figure 8: Full Scale Plan / Section Layout


After collaborating with our team to weed out the weak ideas, while fertilizing and cross-pollenating the strong ones, we could focus on the details necessary to execute a shared design.

Here, we tested structural concepts in 1:24 scale wood models and experimented with fastening systems in 1:1 full scale prototypes.  We determined that our shanty would be built of plywood and corrugated plastic, as is customary for a shanty, but we would lace the “skin” panels to the “rib” structure with nylon cord… not so customary.   Floating above the ice on rails, the faceted form appears from the side to want to move in either direction.  A continuous band of glazing stretches up the south wall and across the ceiling to deliver passive solar lighting and heating.  Inside, discreet floor hatches allow ice access, while a system of rods and holes built into the ribs provides a line rigging and ‘tip-up’ infrastructure.

As we developed and refined these ideas, we became more acutely aware of the reality of our available resources (time/money/space/people/tools), which guided final decisions on what we could realistically build, and how we could actually build it.

shanty-part2_fig9Figure 9:  Scaled Sketches and Model of Final Design

shanty-part2_fig10Figure 10: Digital Model Wireframe

shanty-part2_fig11Figure 11:  3D Perspective of Final Digital Model

Given the short time allotted for this project, these ‘design states’ happened to occur in a somewhat orderly and linear fashion out of necessity.  However, for larger projects, or even small projects with large schedules, these states will repeat and often overlap.  But beware: design will always occupy as much time as you allow it, so these states can only repeat so many times before one must stop designing and get building.  So stay tuned for The Shanty Project – part 3: Fabrication, where we do just that.


The Shelburne Museum’s Ice Shanty Project has come to a close, but you can still experience our shanty in person.  The structure is on exhibit until this summer at the Burlington International Airport, in the baggage claim area.