CTA Architects Engineers named 2016 Intermountain Design Firm of the Year

By: Travis Estvold
27 June 2016

CTA Architects Engineers is thrilled to share some news: we’ve been named ENR Mountain States magazine’s 2016 Intermountain Design Firm of the Year! An excerpt of ENR’s write-up follows; but first, a note…


“It’s an extraordinary honor to be recognized by Engineering News-Record. The kind words they collected from CTA’s partner-clients speak loudest to the experience we strive to create and the rewarding relationships that develop through mutual trust. Congratulations to our entire team!”

From enr.com:

In 1938, two Montana architects and fishing buddies named Ralph Cushing and Everett Terrell were sitting around a campfire on a fishing expedition. That night, they decided to open one of the country’s first integrated architectural and engineering firms. With its corporate office in Billings, Mont., the company today is called CTA Architects Engineers across most of the U.S. and Cushing Terrell Architecture Inc. in Canada and the state of Washington. CTA has more than 400 employees in 17 offices across North America, and the staff encompasses 20 disciplines, including architecture; civil, electrical, mechanical, and environmental engineering; interior design; and landscape architecture.

Clients include such recognizable brands as Dell, Google, Target, First Interstate Bank, Albertsons, and Whole Foods Market, as well as locally prominent organizations such as Stockman Bank, which operates 34 locations throughout Montana, and Billings Clinic, the state’s largest healthcare provider. CTA’s outstanding work in fields ranging from education, retail, and commercial, to residential and institutional design has earned it ENR Mountain States’ designation as Intermountain Design Firm of the Year for 2016.

CTA’s recent work reveals many impressive designs but no particular style associated with the firm. That’s intentional, says David Koel, a CTA principal and one of the company’s lead design architects. “The best design doesn’t come from a catalog,” Koel says. “It has everything to do with the site, right down to the materials you use. The orientation of the building, how you get in and out of it, which way it faces, and even to some degree the windows, the repetition of shapes and forms, all can be inspired by the site.” What also drives CTA’s philosophy, Koel says, is the Japanese concept of “shibui” — the idea that designs should be simple and elegant. “That’s been our philosophy in communicating our concept of design to our designers: ‘Whatever you do, always put it through the filter of simplicity and elegance,’ the less-is-more approach.”

CTA’s overarching design philosophy — use the site, use shibui, satisfy the customer, create an experience — is evident in the firm’s work for Stockman Bank, a CTA client for more than 20 years. “One of the things we’ve seen other firms do is the architects design a building for themselves, to get an award or to be in a magazine,” says Bill Coffee, Stockman Bank president and CEO. “We know CTA really listens to our wants and needs. Our banks have a certain look that is very noticeable around the state of Montana, and CTA is responsible for that,” Coffee says.

“Despite the consistent design elements for more than 30 Stockman projects around the state, Coffee says CTA “has never built the same building twice.” The architectural signature is distinctive nonetheless. Coffee says he’s heard numerous times about people who are not Stockman customers noticing a local branch simply by its unique appearance. The firm helped Stockman acquire property in a historic district in downtown Missoula, Mont., and worked with the local redevelopment agency, historic preservation group, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) to create a preservation plan and incorporate design elements of two existing buildings that made way for Stockman’s new bank.

Coffee believes CTA has also helped Stockman Bank compete in the marketplace, not only through the architectural identity the firm has created but also with the bank’s expansion throughout Montana. “Our close partnership with CTA has allowed us to be more nimble than most of our competitors,” Coffee says. “If we’re thinking about buying a location, they can give us a quick, back-of-the-envelope evaluation. So that enables Stockman to move quickly if there’s a hot piece of property we’re considering acquiring.”

A key to working with clients is CTA’s soup-to-nuts approach. The firm has expertise in just about every discipline involved in designing a building. According to Eric Graham, project and program manager for facilities and real estate at Dell, “What I like is that they have the architectural and engineering all in one firm, versus hiring an architect and hiring another engineering firm to create a complete set of documents.” Adds Mitch Goplen, vice president of facility services for Billings Clinic: “When you have one firm that’s accountable on all the aspects of a job, your life becomes less challenging.”

When it comes to values, mission, and vision, CTA president Scott Wilson says, “Our value system and our culture are non-negotiables. Our culture is one [of] creativity, collaboration, and treating both the clients and your colleagues right. It all goes back to the golden rule. The theory is, if you put them first, your decisions and your thought processes are going to be about how to make them better. And if we’re all pushing in that same direction, it’s taking the company down the right way.”


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