Portland Art Museum announces shortlist for expansion project

The Portland Museum of Art (PMA), Maine’s oldest and largest public art institution, has announced a short list of high-powered domestic and international architecture firms vying to lead a planned expansion project that will culminate with the 140-year-old museum’s Convocation. The square campus is more than twice as large. Competing firms include: Adjaye Associates, MVRDV, LEVER Architecture and a team co-led by architect Toshiko Mori, Johnston Markley and Preston Scott Cohen.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based eponymous architecture studio Preston Scott Cohen is the only New England firm to lead one of the four design teams (full team lineups can be found at the end of this article), with LEVER Architecture representing another Portland. With the exception of New York-based Toshiko Mori Architect, designer of the new Maine Center for Contemporary Art in Rockland, none of the leading firms have designed previous projects in the Pine Tree State.

The four teams listed were selected in the Campus Unification + Expansion International Design Competition, which was developed and conducted by Dovetail Design Strategists in partnership with PMA. The competition officially started in June with the publication of the request for proposals. As PMA notes in a press release, 104 teams have submitted qualifications with more than 250 firms from around the world. Thirty percent of the top architecture firms were founded or owned by BIPOC, and 16 percent were founded or owned by women.

As the PMA notes, the participating teams had to “demonstrate an understanding of the challenge, a commitment to the ideals of the museum, relevant work and illustrate ‘How can museum architecture promote equity?'”

“We are deeply moved by the diversity of experiences and records of innovation represented in these materials,” said Mark H. C. Bessir, director of the Judy and Leonard Lauder Museum of Portland Art. “Our aspirations as a cultural institution are much bigger than just ‘build a building’, and when we launched the competition we were interested to see if our peers in the architectural world were equally interested in the paradigm shift we envisioned.” It turned out they were.”

The Payson Building, PMA’s largest and newest facility, opened in 1983. (Courtesy Portland Museum of Art, Maine)

With the second phase of the competition already underway, the four shortlisted teams will submit their design concepts this autumn, with a public display and comment period in early winter. The final presentations of the teams to the public and the competition jury are scheduled for the first half of December, and the winning team will be announced later that month. The main dates and information about the competition jury can be found here.

The PMA first announced this earlier this year The PMA Project: Creating a Future Orientation a project that involves the construction of a new museum building in the first phase and a second phase that involves the consolidation of four existing PMA buildings, the largest and newest being the Charles Shipman Payson Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Building. The completion of the brick Payson Building in 1983 marked the last time the museum expanded its downtown Portland campus. PMA’s future new wing will rise on a site located directly adjacent to the Payson Building at 142 Front Street, home to the former Chamber of Commerce building. PMA purchased the nearly 200-year-old building in 2019 after its last occupant, the Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine, moved to a new space on Portland’s Thompson Point Development waterfront.

The current campus covers just under 40,000 square feet in all four buildings and will come out of the expansion project by about 100,000 square feet. In addition to the Payson Building, PMA’s three other existing buildings include the Clapp House (1832) at 97 Spring Street, the National Historic Landmark McLellan-Sweet Mansion (completed in 1801 and extensively restored in 2002), and the Sweet Memorial Gallery (1911). These historic structures will be renovated as part of efforts to unify the campus to create “an inclusive and iconic landmark for the future.”

red noguchi sculpture outdoors in the museum
A view of Play sculpture Isamu Noguchi in the sculpture garden of the museum. (Courtesy Portland Art Museum, Maine)

The new wing, which is to rise six to seven stories, “will anchor and unify the entire campus and double the existing size of the academic facility,” the PMA details. “It will be an environmentally and environmentally responsible expansion that will house new collections and major exhibitions, host community events, programs and spaces for viewing and creating art, and will bring together the offices of all staff.”

Among other elements, the expanded and renewed campus program will include: a rooftop sculpture park and restaurant, a new gallery space for temporary exhibitions, a dedicated performance space, auditoriums, a photography center, an event venue, a studio/making space, and a gathering area and workspace for the community. In addition to the aforementioned new offices for PMA employees, other interior features will include a commercial-grade kitchen and a service dock/loading area. Landscaping upgrades are also part of the plan.

To fund the campus expansion and consolidation project, PMA launched a $100 million Blueprint capital campaign (originally $85 million); As reported by the Portland Press Herald. Driven by its mission of “Art for All,” the PMA boasts a collection of 180,000 objects, most of which are in storage due to current space limitations. The Blueprint The project will not only allow the museum to exhibit more of its substantial collection at once, but is also set to increase visitor numbers to an expected 300,000-500,000 visitors a year.

The new wing is scheduled to be completed in 2026.

Full shortlist of design teams:

Adjaye Associates with KMA, Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture, Atelier Ten and 2×4

LEVER architecture with Unknown Studio, Chris Newell – Akomawt Education Initiative, Openbox, Once-Future Office, Atelier Ten and Studio Pacifica

MVRDV along with STOSS, Institute for Human Centered Design, Pentagram, Atelier Ten and DVDL

Architect Toshiko Mori + Johnston Markley + Preston Scott Cohen with Hargreaves Jones, Cross Cultural Community Services, WeShouldDoItAll, Buro Happold Consulting Engineers and Arup

Locally known architects have not yet been selected by each respective team, a process that is part of the second stage of the competition.

AN will announce in December when the winning team is announced.

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