UM Native American Center Featured in Book on Native Building Projects

May 09, 2014

MISSOULA – The Payne Family Native American Center at the University of Montana recently was featured in a new book titled “New Architecture on Indigenous Lands.” In the book, authors Joy Monice Malnar and Frank Vodvarka take readers on a virtual tour of Native building projects in Canada and the Western and Midwestern United States.

They categorize UM’s Payne Family Native American Center as “a remarkable example of a building that is responsive to tribal traditions, technologically advanced and ‘green.’”

As noted in the book, the Native American center is the first off-reservation building in Montana designed to symbolically represent Native Americans – specifically the 12 tribes of Montana – as well as being the first LEED Platinum building in the Montana University System.

“The Payne center draws inspiration from many cultural aspects and Montana tribal areas,” said campus architect Jameel Chaudhry. “The building is both culturally and historically symbolic – telling a story of the past, but also innovative and modern – sharing a way forward.”

Architect Daniel J. Glenn conceptualized the building after meeting with a group of tribal elders who said they wanted a design that was “boldly Native American.” Shortly after that meeting, Glenn came across a 1880s photograph that depicted a Salish encampment of tipis pitched in the Missoula Valley, and that photograph, according to Glenn, became the “heart of our design.”

The book details the building’s cultural references, the thoughtful selection of materials and their placements, and the reflection of a traditional teepee lodge in the building’s rotunda – now called the Bonnie HeavyRunner Gathering Place – all are described in the book.

While the Payne center is a premier building on campus, it is not yet finished. Glenn recently was on campus overseeing the project’s final phase, the Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute, which will be located in the garden-level of the building. The building is named after Cobell, who died in 2011. She was a passionate advocate for Native rights. A member of the Blackfeet tribe, she was instrumental in obtaining a $3.4 billion Indian trust settlement from the federal government.

The new facility will engage students in project-based learning and outreach, bringing together existing UM programs for a new level of work around land and culture.

When finished, the space will include three large classrooms and a seminar space. One classroom will be dedicated to GIS and cultural studies and will feature 24 computer stations; the second classroom will be a general lecture hall; and the third will be a film and theater classroom. The seminar space will be located directly under the Bonnie HeavyRunner Gathering Place and features a domed ceiling, which can be used as a planetarium. The seminar space also will be used by visiting elders as a gathering and lounge area.

According to Chaudhry, a grand opening of the space will be held sometime during early Autumn semester.

For more information call Chaudhry at 406-243-5576 or email



Contact: Jameel Chaudhry, UM campus architect, 406-243-5576,