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Architects Are Worried About Urban Design in Bozeman

Downtown Bozeman (Photo by Chris06)

Bozeman, Montana, is done with Quonset huts.

“The city has a long history of using solid materials,” city planner Tom Rogers recently told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, referring to the city’s effort to update its unified development code, which has recently come under fire from a group of local architects.

Instead of Quonset huts, which Rogers specifically calls as an example of what planners do not want to see, the city may “require most new commercial buildings to have their first-floor facade use brick or another masonry material unless designers get a special ‘departure’ from city planners,” according to the paper.

That’s one of several items that the architects — including Rob Pertzborn of Intrinsik Architecture, Ben Lloyd of Comma-Q Architecture and Brian Caldwell and Erik Nelson of the firm ThinkTank, among many others — have a particular problem with. According to the paper, brick tends to cost more than twice as much as wood or metal, which could force developers to cut costs elsewhere or decide not to develop in Bozeman. The city, like so many others, has a gentrifying housing market, and some claim it already has a shortage of affordable units.

Beyond their financial concerns, though, the architects are worried about design constraints, writing in a letter that the new code could create “a recipe for postmodern style which is often characterized by over-exaggerated and quasi-historic looking architecture.”

Rogers told the Chronicle that the document is still in draft form and that the city is considering the architects’ input. “I don’t think they will find their creativity hampered or hindered with the standards that are being proposed here,” he said.

The local clash between modern and postmodern sensibilities appears to echo national culture wars — in which architecture has suddenly taken an uneasy spotlight. But that’s purely speculation. Perhaps the local dust-up is just about Quonset huts.

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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Tags: urban designarchitecture