Montana State University

MSU architecture graduate wins grand prize in design contest

March 4, 2016 -- MSU News Service

Brian Johnson, Billings resident and a graduate of MSU’s School of Architecture, won the grand prize in the Monogram Dream Kitchen Design Contest for his renovation design of a mid-1960s contemporary kitchen. Photo courtesy of Brian Johnson.

High-Res Available

Subscribe to MSU Newsletters

Bobcat Bulletin is a weekly e-newsletter designed to bring the most recent and relevant news about Montana State University directly to friends and neighbors via email. Visit Bobcat Bulletin.

MSU Today e-mail brings you news and events on campus thrice weekly during the academic year. Visit the MSU Today calendar.

MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571

Montana State University College of Arts and Architecture graduate Brian Johnson, a principal partner at Collaborative Design Architects in Billings, where he currently resides, recently won the grand prize in the Monogram Dream Kitchen Design Contest for his renovation redesign of a mid-1960s contemporary kitchen.

Johnson won the top spot out of more than 50 entries with his redesign of a client’s home in the Gregory Hills subdivision of Billings. The contest’s only requirement was that architects integrate Monogram appliances into their designs.

Johnson is a 1997 and a 2008 graduate of MSU, having earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the School of Architecture.

Johnson attributes his success in great part to the training and education he received in MSU’s architecture program, believing it to be one of the best in the nation.

“School taught me not to be afraid, to think differently, creatively--there are no ‘bad ideas’,” Johnson said.  “But, it also taught me how to listen to people, to work with them and modify my designs based on their feedback. In other words, I learned how to take constructive criticism.”

And this was an extremely important part of his education, according to Johnson. “As architects, we have to sell our ideas, so we need to listen if we want (prospective clients) to become satisfied clients.”

Another important idea that Johnson said he learned at MSU is that design is an art.

“We may be in business to sell ideas, but (design) is absolutely an art,” he said. “And, as such, you can’t be afraid to try, to experiment, to push forward and never be satisfied. That’s how you get better.”

Johnson is remembered by professors as an outstanding student, one who truly embodied the school’s ideals of passion and experimentation.

Ralph Johnson, interim director of the SoA and one of Johnson’s former professors, said Johnson (no relation) stood out from his peers.

“Brian was always an outstanding student,” said Johnson, the professor. “And, in his work and attitude, he actively supports the School of Architecture (and its ideals) every day.”

Johnson is an excellent role model for current students, according to Steven Juroszek, a professor and past interim director of the SoA.

“As a current professional, he actively nurtures emerging design professionals and our students, giving them the support and encouragement they need (to be successful in their own careers).”

Johnson’s prize-winning entry recaptured the original architect’s spirit of design of the mid-‘60s home, while incorporating updated features and appliances, according to Johnson. The home was built at the base of a 200-foot ridge of sandstone, and panoramic views were a large part of the original architect’s plan. Johnson was able to incorporate the sweeping views into his updated design using glass walls with transparent corners for an unobstructed perspective.

Interior views were also a component of the redesign. While the kitchen itself was considered open to the rest of the space from a plan standpoint, Johnson said that the kitchen was actually closed off from the eating and living spaces by a swinging door and walls.

“These walls became barriers that created awkward and unnecessary transitions between the kitchen, family room, breakfast nook and dining room,” according to Johnson’s description of the project. So, he tore them down and, instead, added a counter-high buffet, leaving the site lines open but still defining the space.

While the open concept design may have been the primary focus, updating the entire look and feel was extremely important as well. The most exciting feature was a floating 14-inch soffit, according to Johnson. Quartz counters, new cabinets with aluminum hardware and stainless steel appliances added to the more modern look and feel.

“The new kitchen has been completely transformed to capture the beauty of the site and the delicate lines of the home’s (original) architecture,” Johnson said in an interview on the website Save Room For Design.

Johnson said while it is not necessary for a designer to enter or win competitions, it does have some practical benefits, such as national exposure and recognition.

“Architects enter competitions for a number of reasons,” Johnson said. “Happy clients don’t always mean that your design work is good. I entered simply to see how my design measured up with other designers from around the U.S. and Canada.”  

Speaking to practicality, he said that while being recognized in a competition and winning an award feels wonderful, getting such positive feedback from experts in the industry is even more important. That recognition not only adds merit to his portfolio, it gives his clients a great deal of confidence in their investment with him, in both time and money.

For more information about the College of Arts and Architecture’s School of Architecture, see:

For more information about the contest, see:

Contact: Ralph Johnson, School of Architecture, (406) 994-4650 or