Eagle Feather Metal Roof Honors Native American Heritage & Culture

Sheffield Metals is proud to have supplied to metal used to create the eagle feather metal roof on Montana State University’s American Indian Hall. Discover the background of this unique project and how it honors Native American cultures, beliefs, and traditions.

In an eagle, there is all the wisdom of the world.

Lame Deer, 19th-century Lakota leader

Eagles are considered sacred within many Native American traditions, cultures, and religions. They are honored with great care and shown the most profound respect, as they are frequently considered a messenger of the Creator. 

Visitors of the American Indian Hall on the Montana State University campus in Bozeman, Montana, are met with an eagle feather in the form of a 4,000 square-foot standing seam metal roof above the entrance.

Throughout the concept and design process for the building, the inclusion of an eagle feather roof was one component that was an absolute requirement — especially for artist Jim Dolan and architect Dennis Sun Rhodes, who initially proposed the building idea to Montana State University in 2004. 

After 15+ years of fundraising over $20 million for the 31,000-square-foot project, the American Indian Hall — including the eagle feather roof — finally became a reality upon its completion and grand opening in late 2021.

Designing the Eagle Feather Roof

During the project’s design phase, architects Bill Hanson and Jake St. Sauver with ThinkOne Architecture knew that the building material for the feather roof had to be sustainable, versatile, and functional. After careful consideration, specifying a standing seam metal roof allowed for:

  • An energy-efficient and sustainable roofing product that was versatile and capable of meeting the design goals.
  • Clear and realistic color transitions to achieve an eagle feather’s essence. 
  • A resemblance to the vane and barbs of a feather with the individual roof panels.
  • A high-quality, high-performance roof panel system engineered to withstand the Montana elements for decades. 
  • A non-penetrating attachment point for solar panels to help achieve the LEED v4.1 PLATINUM certification.

After choosing metal as the material for the feather, the next challenge was finding a contractor or installer who could bring the roof to life without compromising on aesthetics or functionality.

Feather Roof Installation & Project Details

“With the right craftsman to fabricate and install it, we knew the feather roof could be something special,” said Hanson. “We got really lucky when Zach [Kilwein] and the team at Beartooth Metal Roofing joined the project.”

Zach Kilwein is a longtime customer at Sheffield Metals and has built a strong reputation for taking on complex and challenging metal roofing projects throughout Montana. The feather roof had several complexities, including the color transitions, the shape, and the curvature of the panels — but with Kilwein’s attention to detail and perfectionism, he exceeded all expectations with the completed feather roof.

The standing seam roofing system, featuring the Sheffield Metals 1.5” Mechanical Seam panel profile, was rollformed onsite using the New Tech Machinery SSQ II MultiPro machine. After rollforming, the Beartooth Metal Roofing crew curved the panels using a Schlebach RBM 38 radius/curving machine to get the panels to meet the barrel-vaulted design of the feather roof.

To create the realistic look of an eagle feather, the 22-gauge Galvalume panels transitioned from Silver Metallic on the left end → to Slate Gray as the mid-tone → to Dark Bronze on the right end. All of the metal used is coated in Fluropon, a 70% PVDF paint system formulated by Sherwin-Williams. 

Additionally, the feather roof carries a 20-year No Dollar Limit Weathertight Warranty from Sheffield Metals, which further protects the investment and ensures the roof was installed according to proven details.

Sustainability of the American Indian Hall

Many Native cultures have a sacred connection to the land and believe in not leaving anything to waste. To honor and respect that connection, it was critical to design and construct Montana State University’s American Indian Hall in the most sustainable and energy-efficient manner. 

The American Indian Hall is the first building in Montana to earn LEED v4.1 PLATINUM, the highest level of certification using the United States Green Building Council’s LEED sustainability rating system.

For a little bit of background, LEED provides the parameters for projects and uses a points system to determine the level of certification. The scorecard considers several sustainability measures, such as location, environment, water efficiency, energy source, building materials, indoor environment, innovation, and more. A building must exceed 80 points to earn the LEED v4.1 PLATINUM certification, which the architects and builders were able to do for the American Indian Hall.

The choice to install metal roofing aided in the building achieving LEED v4.1 PLATINUM, as there is a high level of recycled content in the steel substrate of the Galvalume and the pigments in the paint coating make it a “cool” metal roof. Cool roofs help reduce the heat transferred into a building, resulting in total cooling cost energy savings ranging from 7% to 15%, according to the Green Building Alliance.

Becoming a “Home Away from Home”

Today, the American Indian Hall honors Native cultures with a dedicated space for education, art, and ceremonial events. Plus, it’s created a “home away from home” for Native students where they can learn, grow, and engage with others who share similar experiences and heritage.

Beyond the eagle feather roof, many of the other interior and exterior building elements draw on nature and are prominent to Native values and beliefs, including:

  • The Drum Room 
  • Indigenous gardens that grow medicinal, ceremonial, and edible plants
  • A gallery to display Indigenous works of art 
  • Blue-stained concrete tile rivers throughout the building that symbolize the merging of the Gallatin, Madison, and Jefferson Rivers
  • Classrooms, study spaces, and offices for students and faculty

“The building is a strong statement toward honoring Native American culture and has been so well received by the community and the school,” remarked Hanson. “The energy you get inside and outside the building has become an asset to the students, the Native American Studies Program, and Montana State University overall.”

Project Team

About Sheffield Metals International

Sheffield Metals International (SMI) is an industry-leading distributor of coated and bare metal products, as well as engineered standing seam metal roof profile systems. We specialize in providing the painted Galvalume® and aluminum sheet and coil for the architecturally driven metal panel industry.

Sheffield Metals stocks 40+ colors in Galvalume, several popular colors in aluminum, and can match virtually any color to suit a particular project.

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