Montana State University

Johns wins top architecture award for Chippewa-Cree plan

January 20, 2006 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News


Ferd Johns, left, professor of architecture at Montana State University, and MSU architecture student Allison Orr, were among the eight winners of the American Institute of Architects' 2006 Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design. Fellow winners of the award are from the top architecture firms in the country. MSU photo by Jay Thane.   High-Res Available

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Ferdinand Johns, professor of architecture at Montana State University, has received one of the highest American architectural awards for his master plan for the Chippewa/Cree Reservation southwest of Havre.

The American Institute of Architects named Johns one of eight national winners of its 2006 Institute Honor Award for Regional and Urban Design. Also named in the award was Allison Orr, a fifth-year MSU architecture student from Bozeman who hand-drew the renderings of the 50-year master plan for the Rocky Boy's Chippewa/Cree Reservation.

Johns' and Orr's project is among winners submitted by architects from top firms in the country, including one for an urban plan for the Gaza Strip funded by the RAND Corporation as well as a design for the seat of the Swiss government. Johns said the honor is a capstone award in his profession.

"It is one of the neatest professional things that has ever happened to me," Johns said. "It is for Allison, as well."

"Ferd competed with the largest and best firms in the world," said Clark Llewellyn, director of the MSU School of Architecture who said it is the first time in his 21-year tenure at the school that an MSU professor has received a national AIA award. He called the award "the highlight of anyone's career."

"Ferd was amazing in that he did it just with students helping him. He showed that you can do it while working here in Montana. We are really proud of him."

Johns prepared the winning plan for the 130,000-acre Rocky Boy's Reservation as an extension of a project he directed for the Community Design Center in MSU's School of Architecture. The center helps cities, towns and non-profit organizations throughout the region, offering professional architectural planning with the assistance of MSU students. The tribe's planning committee voted to use Johns and Orr's master plan as a basis for a zoning plan for the reservation.

Chippewa-Cree tribal officials sought the center's guidance because they project that the reservation's population, now ranging from 2,700-4,500 people, could mushroom to 19,000 by the year 2050, largely fueled by a proposed casino and other growth.

Johns obtained a $7,500 grant from the Walking Shield Foundation, as well as a $ 2,500 grant from MSU's College of Arts and Architecture to complete the plan. Johns hired Orr as an assistant. Johns calls Orr "one of the most gifted drawers to have been in the School" and she hand-drew the plans normally done by a computer. Johns' plans call for centering growth at the Box Elder, Rocky Boy Agency and Stone Child College area as well as greenways, parks and recreation areas and rerouting the entry point of the reservation.

The two also prepared five alternative planning scenarios. The AIA judges lauded the photo montages that accompanied the alternative plans "through which (Johns and Orr) were able to glean vigorous feedback from tribal members and leaders alike, establishing a direction for future development."

"The architect thoughtfully integrated nature and culture with ideas of economic, ecologic, and social sustainability, which are an ongoing issue for any community," the judging evaluation said. "Although statistically not urban, this project recognizes classic principles of urban design in simple, understandable recommendations."

Llewellyn noted while it is the first time an MSU professor has received an AIA national award, MSU architecture graduates have received them. In fact this year a firm that employs several MSU architecture grads also won an AIA award for urban planning. The firm is Mithun Architects, Designers and Planners in Seattle, which won an AIA urban planning award for a project in Portland, Ore. Bert Gregory, an MSU grad who sits on the advisory board to the MSU School of Architecture, is the principal architect at the firm.

"MSU has ties to two of the eight planning awards this year," Llewellyn said. "That's pretty impressive."

Johns and Orr will receive the award at AIA ceremonies in Los Angeles in June. The AIA competition also includes categories for architecture and interior architecture in addition to urban planning and design.

For more information on the national AIA awards and other winners, go to the AIA Web site.

Ferd Johns (406) 994-4670