Nov. 18—Four design teams have submitted concept plans for an expansion of the Portland Museum of Art, each of which includes a contemporary new building that would stand out rather than blend in with the architectural landscape of one of the city's busiest areas.
Members of the public had a chance Friday to see design models set up inside the existing museum. A more formal presentation with representatives of the four teams that were chosen in August as finalists was held for ticketed guests at Hannaford Hall on the University of Southern Maine campus. The designs will remain on display at the museum until Dec. 11 and materials also will be shared on the museum's website as officials gather public input over the next month.
One of these four finalists will be chosen 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 Netherlands firm; 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 is wonderful to see how the design community reacted. The (designs) are all beautiful, thoughtful and thought-provoking," said Susanna Sirefman, president of Dovetail Design Strategists, the New York consulting firm the museum hired to lead its search for 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 constructing 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 onto, or torn down, museum officials have said, pending a review of the city's historic preservation ordinance.
As envisioned, that new building would have a ground floor with free art galleries, classrooms and community space, and room on the remaining floors for an auditorium, traveling exhibitions, offices, an all-ages "makers space" and a photography center. The rooftop would include a restaurant and sculpture park.
Each of the four designs unveiled Friday depicts a large, contemporary and architecturally striking building that would be constructed on that 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 collectively 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, planned to be completed by 2026, would include improvements to existing buildings as well and would add money to the museum's endowment for future acquisitions and improvements. The capital fundraising campaign is underway and has raised more than $30 million.
PMA Director Mark Bessire said in February that the museum doesn't have enough space to showcase its growing collection of artwork, or to accommodate an increasing number of visitors.
"Right now, because of our growth, the real risk is not to build," he said. "If museums don't continue to grow, if you fall back, it can take a generation to recover."
The museum project coincides with an ongoing overhaul of Congress Square that includes a redesign of the intersection and of the park that sits directly across from the museum.
"All four designs are somewhat radically different, but they made a lot of similar moves, too," Sirefman said. "They are all sustainable and all use Free and Congress streets in different ways to invite people in."
Adjaye Associates' design feels the most traditional, a massive rectangular building connected to the Payson Building with a section that wraps around behind the existing building to create a handsome new entrance off High Street.
MVRDV's concept envisions a vertical design, with each floor offset in some way, leading up to a rooftop area adorned with greenery.
Lever Architecture presented a plan that would create a curved, mostly glass building abutting Free Street whose height matches that of the Payson Building.
The design from Toshiko Mori appears to be the tallest, a glass-front building that rises to a peak high above Congress Square and a covered rooftop area that looks out toward Casco Bay.
Each of the chosen design finalists has relevant experience.
Adjaye Associates recently designed the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and The Studio Museum in Harlem.
Lever Architecture oversaw construction of the School of Art+Design at Portland State University.
MVRDV's portfolio includes the Depot Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, and the world's first fully accessible Art Depot and Book Mountain, a massive library and monument to reading in Spijkernisse, Netherlands.
And Toshiko Mori's team has designed, among others, 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).
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