Four design teams have submitted conceptual plans for an expansion of the Portland Museum of Art, each featuring a contemporary new building that would contrast, rather than blend, with the architectural landscape of one of the city’s busiest neighborhoods.
The public on Friday had the opportunity to see design models that were displayed in the existing museum. A more formal presentation, featuring representatives from the four teams selected as finalists in August, was held for ticketed guests at Hannaford Hall on the University of Southern Maine campus. The designs will remain on display at the museum through December 11, and the materials will also be shared on the museum’s website while officials collect public input over the next month.
One of these four finalists will be selected by the end of the year: Adjaye Associates, based in Ghana with offices in London and New York; lever architecture of Portland, Oregon; MVRDV, a Dutch company; and a team of Toshiko Mori of New York, Preston Scott Cohen of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Johnston Marklee & Associates of Los Angeles.
“We always get great results when we do searches, so I’m not surprised, but it’s wonderful to see how the design community has responded. The (designs) are all beautiful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking,” said Susanna Sirefman, president of Dovetail Design Strategists, the New York-based consultancy that hired the museum to find an architect and design team.
Museum officials announced in February their plans to overhaul the campus and add 60,000 square feet of space, more than doubling the existing size. Those plans include building a six- or seven-story building on the site of the former Children’s Museum, which the Portland Museum of Art purchased in 2019. The building at 142 Free St. is likely to be renovated, added or demolished, museum officials have said while a review of the city’s historic preservation ordinance is pending.
As planned, this new building would have a ground floor with free art galleries, classrooms and common areas, and the remaining floors would house an auditorium, traveling exhibitions, offices, a maker space for all ages and a photography center. The roof would include a restaurant and a sculpture park.
Each of the four designs unveiled on Friday represents a large, contemporary and architecturally striking building that would be constructed on the site adjacent to what is known as the Payson building. The museum campus also includes the McLellan House, the Sweat Memorial Galleries and the Clapp House, which together form a block at the corner of Congress and High Streets.
Three of the museum’s four main buildings are more than a century old. The newest building, Payson, opened in 1983.
The $100 million project, due to be completed by 2026, would also include improvements to existing buildings and add money to the museum’s endowment for future purchases and improvements. The fundraising campaign is underway and has raised more than $30 million.
PMA director Mark Bessire said in February that the museum didn’t have enough space to display its growing collection of artworks or accommodate a growing number of visitors.
“Right now the real risk because of our growth isn’t building,” he said. “Unless museums continue to grow and fall behind, it may take a generation to recover.”
The museum project coincides with an ongoing overhaul of Congress Square that includes a redesign of the intersection and the park that sits directly across from the museum.
“All four designs are somewhat radically different, but they also made many similar moves,” Sirefmann said. “They’re all sustainable and using the streets of the free and congressional in different ways to invite people in.”
Adajye Associates’ design has the most traditional feel, a massive rectangular building linked to the Payson building, with a section that tucks behind the existing building to create a beautiful new entrance off the High Street.
MVRDV’s concept envisions a vertical design, with each floor offset in some way, leading to a roof area adorned with greenery.
Lever Architecture presented a plan that would create a curving, mostly glass building on Free Street, equal in height to the Payson Building.
Toshiko Mori’s design appears to be the tallest, a glass-fronted building rising to a peak high above Congress Square and a covered roof area overlooking Casco Bay.
Each of the selected design finalists has relevant experience.
Adjaye Associates recently designed the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, DC, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and The Studio Museum in Harlem.
Lever Architecture oversaw the construction of the School of Art+Design at Portland State University.
MVRDV’s portfolio includes Depot Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the world’s first fully accessible Art Depot and Book Mountain, a massive library and reading monument in Spijkernisse, the Netherlands.
And Toshiko Mori’s team has designed the Tel Aviv Museum of Art Amir Building in Israel (by Cohen), the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston (by Johnston Marklee), and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art here in Rockland (by Mori), among others . .