Bozeman Architecture: Lessons Learned from Merging Firms

By Ben Lloyd, Vice President

Vice president Ben Lloyd leads Hennebery Eddy Architects' Comma-Q Studio in Bozeman

Last winter, when we announced that Comma-Q was merging with Hennebery Eddy, I fielded questions about what this would mean for our Montana-based clients and consultants, and for our wonderful team of designers. Understandably, the idea that our small studio was joining forces with a firm larger and far away was uncomfortable for some. Would our local, community-oriented approach to designing, collaborating, and just existing suddenly go away?

Seven months in, I can confidently say that in many ways, not much has changed. Sure, there have been adjustments – new email addresses, modifications to some processes, and more meetings for some of us. Yet several clear gains have emerged, things we anticipated and hoped for, that have been better than imagined:

  1. Our project work has benefitted. The Bozeman studio has maintained the type and scale of work that built our pre-merger reputation as a small, community-focused firm. And now, with expanded opportunities, we’ve been able to contribute to larger projects. Our project team for Fort Yellowstone just wrapped up two weeks of on-site building condition assessments and completed corresponding reports for 17 structures – an effort made possible because of a unified team of historic preservationists from both offices. Similarly, we’ve continued our work on the Montana State Capitol – begun before the merger – as a single team. While our separate firms partnered well together on past projects, continuing as a single organization is like finding the perfect focus with a pair of binoculars: both individual lenses offer a good view, but things really sharpen when the lenses are used together.
  2. We are one team. Truly – there are just more of us. A number of Portland-based staff have been working from the Bozeman studio on a regular basis, particularly those who are working on projects with team members from both offices. As a result, our relationships are deeper, our connections with each other as humans are more familiar, and as professionals we can see first-hand our greater bench strength. “More is more” has proven itself by improving our project work through collaboration with colleagues.
  3. Sustainable design is our standard of practice. For years, our Bozeman team has pursued a higher level of sustainable design in our project work. This is especially clear in our design of the Bozeman Community Food Co-op, where Montana’s natural resources shine: the cross-laminated timber (CLT) structural system made in the state, and the vegetated rooftop reflects less heat and reduces the building’s cooling load while creating habitat for birds and insects, among other features. Hennebery Eddy’s net-positive approach to design reinforces our local advocacy for sustainability at all scales and aligns with our values and desire to continue leading the way in Bozeman and Montana.

Integrating two firms also means the melding of ideas and ideals, and exchanging lessons learned from our collective project experience. As interest in developing laboratory space increases in the Mountain West, we are drawing on the experience of our Portland office. Our PDX crew has a growing list of successful wet lab, teaching lab, and learning lab projects that serve the needs of educational, research, and development facilities in the region.

Finally, and most importantly, our connection to Portland has given us a first-hand view of how a larger city is confronting diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in the industry and in the community. Portland’s protests, progress, struggles, conversations, and culture of addressing the troubling truths of inequity serve as a touchstone for Bozeman, and we are embracing the challenging work of examining our biases and behaviors to create a better, more equitable future in Bozeman and beyond.