Located along the Missouri River in the heartland of Montana lies the state’s third largest city, Great Falls. Hovering over the area in Google Earth, one can detect a small section east of downtown that is oriented 15 degrees off the unyielding city grid. This deviation hints at a design marvel that may be one of the most intact examples of international style architecture in America today: the University of Providence, Great Falls.
Originally founded in 1932 as the Great Falls Junior College for Women, the school went through numerous iterations and multiple locations before establishing its current home. In 1958, the college commissioned Page & Werner Architects to design their 22-acre campus. One of the firm’s founding principals, Vince Werner, had recently graduated from Montana State University, where he was introduced to a new architectural theory called the international style. From the overall master plan to furniture selection and meticulous interior detailing, Page & Werner embraced this modernist approach for the University of Providence design with uncompromising passion.
What is so astonishing about the architecture is its absolute consistency throughout. This is especially so considering how isolated Great Falls was from the great intellectual architectural centers in the United States at the time.
The whole campus has remained remarkably intact since the day it opened. It is truly a wonderful and underappreciated example of the optimism and design daring promoted throughout the United States after the war.