Montana State University

MSU architecture students and faculty assist City of Bozeman by surveying hundreds of downtown homes

April 6, 2016 -- Denise Hoepfner, MSU News

Alexandra Kress and Michael Sisemore were among a group of students from the Montana State University School of Architecture who fanned out into the nearby Bozeman neighborhood on Monday, April 4, 2016. The students took part in a project to collect information on the homes for a historic building survey that will be compiled by officials with the City of Bozeman. MSU Photo by Sepp Jannotta.Amanda Kirkpatrick and Jennisse Schule, at left, were among a group of students from the Montana State University School of Architecture who fanned out into the nearby Bozeman neighborhood on Monday, April 4, 2016. The students took part in a project to collect information on the homes for a historic building survey that will be compiled by officials with the City of Bozeman. MSU Photo by Sepp Jannotta.

Alexandra Kress and Michael Sisemore were among a group of students from the Montana State University School of Architecture who fanned out into the nearby Bozeman neighborhood on Monday, April 4, 2016. The students took part in a project to collect information on the homes for a historic building survey that will be compiled by officials with the City of Bozeman. MSU Photo by Sepp Jannotta.

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – Montana State University architecture students and faculty assisted the City of Bozeman by completing historic building surveys earlier this week on approximately 500 homes and structures near campus. The daylong event was a project of the School of Architecture in the College of Arts and Architecture.

The students collected the data as part of a new cultural resource survey. The last comprehensive architectural survey was completed in 1984. While an update of the downtown commercial buildings is nearly complete, city budget constraints have prevented an update of the residential buildings in the greater downtown area, according to a City of Bozeman press release.

“The survey is the basic building block to considering the potential formation or revision to historic districts, provides guidance to homeowners wanting to make historically-compatible renovations and helps document the evolving character of the community,” the press release stated.

Armed with cameras and copies of “Field Guide to American Houses,” more than 100 students were divided into groups led by a faculty member. Groups blanketed their assigned neighborhoods, working in pairs to gather basic architectural characteristics, site descriptions and photographs of the homes.

Making note of dormers, gables, fascia, windows and other stylistic and site details on structures larger than 100 square feet, students recorded the information onto forms provided by the State Historic Preservation Office.

The service project was also an opportunity for the students to become familiar with the historic styles of the homes in downtown Bozeman and talk with their faculty advisers about issues related to their studies and future career plans.

As his group of students tackled the first couple of homes on their list, Ralph Johnson, interim director of the School of Architecture, pointed out design elements to consider. Asbestos siding, popular in the 1950s, could be identified by the vertical wood grain and the way pieces chipped away. Original storm windows commonly used to cover exterior windows provided extra insulation against the cold. A home that likely started as a Craftsman bungalow had been remodeled over the years and no longer resembled its original design.

Austyn Traxler, a freshman from Helena majoring in architecture, said the service day provided him the opportunity to learn more about the design trends of historic buildings and the materials used in their construction. He also appreciated the chance to use his knowledge to benefit the city.

“I think it’s a great opportunity and I appreciate the city wanting us to do it, and thinking we’re capable of doing it, which I believe we are,” Traxler said.

After the students completed the surveys of their assigned areas, they logged onto the City of Bozeman’s geographic information system website to determine the official location of each building they surveyed. They then entered the building descriptions, site plans and photographs in the city’s historic preservation database.

Graduate student Kelly Olinger, of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, came up with the idea of an all-school event to replace the previously held all-school design competition. Olinger, who is working on her master’s in architecture, said the service day was one of several ideas presented to Johnson, and he suggested the survey as a way to give back to the city while learning more about the historic homes in the area.

“It was an opportunity for the students from all years to get to know one another, and it gave us the chance to do something purposeful and meaningful with our time,” Olinger said.

Johnson called the day “a great success,” for both the city and the students.

“Every student I spoke with after we returned said it had been a fun day and mentioned something they learned in looking very closely at the buildings they were assigned,” Johnson said. “As faculty, we could not ask for anything more -- teaching, research, outreach and community engagement, and fun, all wrapped into a single day’s activity.”

Johnson said the school plans to repeat the activity next fall and continue until the surveying of all of the overlay and historic districts in Bozeman is complete.

Contact: Ralph Johnson, ralphj@montana.edu or (406) 994-4650

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