14 Apr Making a Statement: Miller Architects
When the principal partners of Miller Architects decided to relocate their firm from Livingston to Bozeman, Montana, they were seeking a building with historic roots but a fresh look. They found it in Bozeman’s Cannery District, where developers have repurposed a historic agricultural structure into a unique commercial hub on North Rouse Avenue and Oak Street.
“This new building is a continuation of our growth,” explained founding principal Candace Tillotson-Miller. “We outgrew our Livingston office because ultimately the work demanded more space, more employees, and a more efficient office environment.”
Since Candace Tillotson-Miller founded the firm in 1992, her team has designed hundreds of residences throughout the West. Her straightforward manner and elegant design sensibility with reclaimed and rustic materials have become hallmarks of Miller Architects. Just in the last decade, they’ve grown from four employees to 13, and the demands of their projects have expanded as well. The move to the Cannery District doubled their office space to 2,500 square feet.
By outgrowing the historic railroad building in Livingston that had housed the architectural firm for more than two decades, the Miller Architects principals were presented with an opportunity to make a statement. The need for a new location coincided with the team’s recently formalized partnership between Tillotson-Miller, Joe Roodell, and Matt Miller (no relation to Candace). While the three architects have worked together for roughly a decade on many residential projects, the partnership between them was formed just last year. Together they have evolved into a team unusual in its experience, creativity, and vision.
“It’s exciting for us to become partners in this successful business that Candace has created,” said Roodell. “Now with our collaborative effort and the unique opportunity this fresh space offers the firm, we can expand our capabilities.”
The team settled into their new space in January of this year. Sitting in the conference room, where shelves are lined with three-ring binders from former projects, coffee-table books that feature homes designed by the firm, and samples of rustic wood, the partners discussed how the move invigorated their firm. A span of windows framed a view of the Story Hills and Bridger Mountains. A wall of glass connected the meeting area to the rest of the office, making a physical statement that spoke to the transparency of Miller Architects’ philosophy.
“This space resonated immediately with all of us,” said Miller. “The bigger vision of the development has a real sense of progression and that appealed to us, too. When we decided to make this move, we all agreed that the new space had to represent the firm.”
In the Cannery District development, they found the right elements to express the firm’s commitment to designing structures that are grounded in place, showcasing their hallmark application of reclaimed and recycled materials, and highlighting a new emphasis on contemporary yet timeless architecture. The long-term vision for this revived industrial section of town includes residential, business, and outdoor spaces, as well as a link to Bozeman’s Mountains to Main Street trail system.
Built in 1917 as the Bozeman Canning Company, the four-story, timber-frame structure originally accommodated more than 200 employees who spent their days canning peas. The company slogan was painted on the side of the building: “Peas that Please!” Thousands of cases of peas were packaged there over decades. Since the early 1960s, however, this iconic agricultural tower has stood empty and deteriorating on the edge of Bozeman’s industrial fringe, next to the railroad tracks and within earshot of Interstate 90’s steady hum.
Today, the first floor is anchored by a sushi restaurant, microbrewery, bike shop, rum distillery, and barbershop. Within minutes of historic downtown, the university, and skiing at Bridger Bowl, the Cannery District has the benefit of being centrally located even as it stands alone on the edge of an expanding Bozeman. Likewise, Miller Architects is soundly engaged in the community even while they’ve set themselves apart with a design vocabulary that tends to modify the Western vernacular with modern sensibilities.
“I think it’s a wonderful re-use of this area and buildings that are part of the fabric of the region’s original agricultural community,” said Tillostson-Miller. “For our needs, it was important that the building have a connection to place.”
Once the space was selected, the partners had the opportunity to start with an open canvas on the second floor. During the restoration, the building was taken down to its skeletal structure, leaving the studs, posts, and beams exposed. Over the course of a year, Candace, Joe, and Matt became their own clients. Timeline, budget, and layers of design decisions were all factors in the process. Ultimately, the team used the best of the building’s original features, mainly the exposed timbers, the wide-plank floors, and an industrial quality that inspired a contemporary design.
“We wanted to utilize lots of light, texture, and an open floor plan,” explained Matt. “Compared to the traditional, historic concept of our Livingston location, this space has a fresh palette, but what they both have in common is timeless design, and that’s what we strive for in every project.”
From “peas that please” to a cutting edge team of architects paying homage to the past by designing timeless buildings, the new Cannery District location has given Miller Architects a firm hold on the future.