Latest Design Forum — this time in Billings — reinforces ‘elegant simplicity’ theme

By: CTA In The News
22 June 2017

Staged every year, CTA’s latest two-day Design Forum was hosted by the Billings office last week. The gathering, which pulls together an array of designers from a cross-section of the firm’s more than 20 professional disciplines, focuses on various methods for honing in on CTA’s design philosophy of “elegant simplicity.” Like past forums, this installment featured a trek to an inspiring location, presentations from design leaders, in-depth discussion on what makes good design, and team design challenges. The gathering also gives attendees to meet and better know their colleagues from other offices, both during sessions and in after-hours social activities.


Jule Stuver, Architectural Tech, CTA Great Falls

“In the morning, the team enjoyed a tour of the vast 10,000-acre outdoor exhibitions at Tippet Rise Art Center. Installations such as ‘Domo’ by Ensemble Studio express a relationship between art, music, architecture, and the landscape. This sculpture maintains a context to the landscape but also provides shelter as an outdoor performance space. The team was also able to experience CTA’s work on the ‘Daydreams’ replica single-room school exhibit.”

Madeline Rajtar, Interior Designer, CTA Billings

“Design architect David Koel led members of CTA through an open dialog on empowerment, and what that exactly means for our firm, unveiling the ‘design trajectory’ that we all can withhold, if we allow ourselves to overcome our ‘sense of powerlessness.’ Design charrettes play an important role in every Design Forum, but this year Design Leader Jim Beal threw a curveball when he challenged the team to create quick 3D study models of concepts — this allowed us to explore scale and texture, and also understand how light and shadow interacts with our model when rotated around a single light source.”

Blair Onyekanne, Architect, CTA Austin

“My eyes glanced over the structure without concern. It was a plywood and 2×4 skeleton of what seemed to be unfinished work—what would be a music pavilion when it was completed. But at the end of our Tippet Rise tour, our wonderful guide took us right to the skeleton and displayed its beauty. Though I never would have guessed, the structure created an amazingly clear acoustical environment, projecting our guide’s voice with vibrancy. It was complete, though bare, and it was a reminder to look twice and keep innovating.

Then, after a serene morning amongst rolling hills and stunning installations, the Design Forum reconvened at the Billings office. With a grin, landscape architect Dayton Rush led AIT Daniel Bachelier and me up to the roof patio revealing a world of plants that Dayton had individually placed and nurtured into a lush garden. Under the ground cover grew the sweetest strawberries the world will ever know! It was a wonderful surprise to see (and taste) CTA’s passions cross between work and home.”


Shannon Christensen, PM/Architect, CTA Billings

“CTA principal Mike Tuss relayed his excitement at seeing how the firm has grown from 35 people during the recession of the 1980s to more than 425 today. This Forum allowed attendees to reflect on the firm’s growth, and projects discussed received design attention no matter their scale, budget, or location.

Creating culture is hard work, and CTA’s design forums are helping instill and reinforce a significant design culture. Team members generated many ideas to take back with them to respective offices. CTA is an integrated firm, and engineers were not left out of the discussion. Engineers approach projects as problems and work to solve them, which can be different than architects’ methodology. We can setup projects for success by communicating so all team members can fully understand all needs upfront.”

Bryan Topp, Architect, CTA Denver

“In one exercise, we shared images of our work and defined their design style by placing them in quadrants based on axes labeled Traditional vs. Contemporary and Simple vs. Complex. The resultant chart illustrated a cohesive philosophy, leaning toward elegant simplicity in our designs — though as a group, we still have much work to do to bring this philosophy to all projects. The big takeaway for the group was that traditional design can be simple, while contemporary design can be complex, so every project can and should be distilled down to its essence to simplify and reinforce the design intent.

We also took part in a design charrette for Bozeman High School, in which we were tasked with devising with a design concept and presenting parti models using light and shadow as a method to exhibit our concept. We worked in groups to understand the challenge, conceptualize and sketch ideas individually, discuss, come to consensus on a cohesive concept, and execute our deliverable.”


Joel Anderson, Design Leader, CTA Billings

“Hosting other CTA offices in Billings, Montana, was a highlight for us. We were able to showcase our landscape, our community, our people, and our process. We enjoyed many stories about how different we are across CTA, but common threads appeared when we talked about design and what it means to each of us.”

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