Maine’s Portland Museum of Art Unveils Shortlisted Design Proposals


The four design teams vying for the commission to double the size of the Portland Museum of Art (PMA), in Portland, Maine, unveiled their visions as part of a public comment period. Pre-selected design teams led by Adjaye Associates; LEVER Architecture; MVRDV; and Toshiko Mori Architect + Johnston Marklee + Preston Scott Cohen were announced in August following a Request for Qualifications, launched in June, which invited architects and designers from around the world to submit their qualifications and intentions of interest for the design of the expanded museum.

Founded in 1882 as the Portland Society of Art, the PMA currently spans four historic buildings, including the Payson Building designed by Henry Cobb. The planned renovation will give the museum – the state’s largest and oldest art institution – a much-needed addition to expand its exhibition and collection space in the form of a new wing, while unifying the buildings existing belonging to the museum. Currently, the museum spans approximately 40,000 square feet, and after renovation it will be nearly 100,000 square feet.

As previously explained by the PMA, the Campus Unification + Expansion International Design Competition – developed and run by Dovetail Design Strategists in partnership with PMA – is to solicit designs for an addition that will house museum collections, exhibition space, a room to host events, performances, workshops and administrative offices, not to mention a rooftop sculpture park, café, photography studio, commercial-grade kitchen and loading dock.

While the design competition focuses on expanding the museum, existing historic buildings, including the remarkable Payson Building and adjacent Clapp House, the McLellan-Sweat Mansion and the Sweat Memorial Galleries will also undergo renovations.

Since the announcement of the shortlisted design teams, Phase II of the unification and expansion project has been completed. The architects visited the site, met with stakeholders and museum staff, submitted interim reports and presented their conceptual designs, which have now entered a public comment period.

The designs, models and videos produced by the shortlisted teams will be viewable at the PMA until December 11, with the winning team to be announced by the end of the year. Each of the shortlisted teams will receive compensation of $50,000 for their contribution and work during Phase II. The winning concept design will be further refined, taking into account community feedback.

Although at first glance the design proposals are visually quite different, they each promote similar themes, use sustainable materials, and wholeheartedly embrace the unification of campus buildings and the surrounding streetscape. The four design proposals are listed alphabetically below, with more information on each available online. The form for submitting comments is open until December 11. If you are in Portland within the next three weeks, designs are also available for in-person inspection.

Adjaye Associates (Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art)
staircase rendering
Adjaye Associates (Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art)
section showing the programming of the rooms
Adjaye Associates (Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art)

Adjaye Associates

Adjaye Associates, in collaboration with KMA, Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture, Atelier Ten and 2×4, envisions expanding the museum with recycled materials that complement the existing masonry. In a project statement, the design team explained that their concept was “guided by indigenous knowledge systems” and, therefore, uses local and earthly materials such as rammed earth and wood.

Inside, a grand staircase creates a focal point and guides circulation and movement through the museum, ultimately taking visitors to the roof where the design team proposed the installation of a roof garden, a sculpture park and a view of the Casco Bay and the city. At street level, a reimagined entrance on the High Street invites visitors into the existing Shaw Sculpture Garden.

rendering of the museum expansion with a bentwood structure
LEVER Architecture (Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art)
rendering of the museum expansion with a bentwood structure
LEVER Architecture (Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art)
rendering of interior wooden structure
LEVER Architecture (Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art)

LEVER Architecture

LEVER Architecture, alongside collaborators Scott Simons and Unknown Studio, Chris-Newell-Akomawt Educational Initiative, Openbox, Once-Future Office, Atelier Ten and Studio Pacifica, also produced a concept designed by Indigenous peoples. Drawing inspiration from the “connection with people and place” of the Wabanaki tribe, the design uses nature as an architectural element, visible during the summer solstice when the roof of the expansion is shaped to frame the sun and during the winter months when sunlight penetrates inside. Court.

Materials such as locally sourced wood, terracotta and granite feature prominently throughout. The expansion matches the height and shape of the existing Cobb-designed building with a curved, angled structure covered in wide swathes of windows that invite the outdoors in.

The project proposes to replace the administrative wing with an accessible public space, called “Free Street”. In addition to connecting structures and programming, this open space will bring a living room, creative spaces and a performance hall to the museum.

render of expansion stacked on top of building
MVRDV (Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art)
rendering of the front view of the museum expansion
MVRDV (Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art)
museum interior with artwork hanging on the walls and ceiling
MVRDV (Courtesy of Portland Museum of Art)


MVRDV, leading a team consisting of Simons Architects, STOSS, Institute for Human Centered Design, Pentagram, Atelier Ten and DVDL, is approaching the expansion with a “light touch”. Instead of designing horizontally, as other finalists proposed, the venture went vertical, with the addition comprising a series of volumes stacked on top of the existing building. Each of the volumes would host a unique function and be constructed with distinctive facade materials, resulting in a collage-like effect.

Throughout the design, underused or traditionally sparsely programmed spaces such as hallways, stairwells and lobbies are activated with artwork and installations. These movement zones merge to create programs and are vertically connected throughout the interior. This public thoroughfare – and its interstitial spaces – “provide Portlanders with space for creativity, display, gathering, and all manner of public expression.”

The new wing, given its proposed height, would become a highly visible part of the city. The use of informal spaces for art exhibition indicates an attitude that presents a contemporary art institution as “unpretentious, messy, transparent, expressive and a continuous work in progress”.

jagged roof with landscaped entrance
Toshiko Mori Architect + Johnston Marklee + Preston Scott Cohen (Courtesy Portland Museum of Art)
rendering of a glazed building
Toshiko Mori Architect + Johnston Marklee + Preston Scott Cohen (Courtesy Portland Museum of Art)

Toshiko Mori Architect + Johnston Marklee + Preston Scott Cohen

The team led by Toshiko Mori Architect, Johnston Marklee and Preston Scott Cohen, in collaboration with Simons Architects, Cross Cultural Community Services, Arup, Buro Happold, Hargreaves Jones and WeShouldDoItAll, offers an angular addition with a jagged roofline.

In a description of the project, the team – each of the well-known architects in their own right, now working together – said artists’ studios and the influence of natural light, as well as Maine’s marine industry, were the sources of inspiration for the design. The addition, an all-glass structure, pours sunlight into the galleries and exhibition spaces.

The original Cobb-designed portico of the building would be surrounded by the transparent addition, tying the contemporary design to the existing built fabric. Similar to other competing companies, the design also references Indigenous artwork and materials with a face of the addition clad in custom-designed glazing by artist Jeremy Frey that mimics the pattern of woven Wabanaki baskets.

A will report once the winning team has been announced.

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