Portland Museum of Art narrows search for expansion architect to 4 international finalists

The Payson Building of the Portland Museum of Art, seen from Congress Square Park. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Portland Museum of Art has selected four architecture and design teams representing professionals around the world as finalists to oversee its planned expansion and campus unification.

The teams led by: Adjaye Associates, based in Ghana with offices in London and New York, were chosen from over 100 applications; Portland, Oregon Lever Architecture; 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.

Portland Museum of Art director Mark Bessire stands in the Payson wing of the building in February. Ben McCanna / Personal Photographer

“I think the surprise was how many big companies around the world were interested in our project,” museum director Mark Bessire said. “We’re trying to do something different with the structure of the museum, but it’s definitely an affirmation of what we hoped would happen.”

The museum announced in February that it was launching a massive campaign to overhaul its downtown location, including constructing a new six- or seven-story building on the site of the former Children’s Museum & Theater of Maine, which it bought in 2019.

Museum officials and board members envisioned an addition that would not only double the amount of space, but would stand out architecturally in the Portland skyline for decades to come.

Rather than work with a handful of potential designers, the museum decided to run an open competition and hired a New York consulting firm, Dovetail Design Strategists, to oversee it.

The competition attracted interest from companies representing 20 countries.

“It was exciting to see the enthusiasm and empathy from the global architecture and design community for the extraordinary PMA vision that our competition attracted,” said Dovetail President Susanna Sirefman in a statement. “The submissions of the selected teams demonstrate a deep understanding of the museum’s mission to redefine the role of a museum in society and each shortlisted team has been carefully constructed to reflect the PMA’s commitment to diversity, equity, accessibility, inclusiveness and sustainability.”

The new construction project at 142 Free St. would include a ground floor with free art galleries, classrooms and community space, and a room on the remaining floors for an auditorium, traveling exhibits, offices , a “creative space” for all ages and a photography center. The rooftop would include a restaurant and a sculpture park.

The project will also include improvements to the rest of the museum campus, which includes four other buildings: the McLellan House, the Sweat Memorial Galleries, the Clapp House and the Payson Building, whose iconic arches face the intersection of Congress and High.

Initially, the goal was to raise $85 million for the project, but Bessire said that amount has now grown to $100 million. About half will go to new construction, while the rest will be used to build the museum’s endowment.

This week, Bessire said, the museum had raised $30 million. The project is not expected to be completed before 2026.

“I think every announcement will kind of spark some interest,” he said. “Some people want to get in early, some in the middle, some at the end. And we’ve accompanied philanthropists along the way. We don’t want to leave anyone behind. »

The submissions did not include any specific details on how each architect would approach the project, but focused more on the companies’ experience and who they would involve as design partners, the spokesperson said. of the museum, Graeme Kennedy.

Each finalist has assembled teams of professionals, including sustainability experts, landscape architects and graphic designers, and will develop concept plans to be presented in the fall. The drawings will be presented publicly between November 18 and December 9. A winner will be selected by a jury of board members and others by the end of the year.

“It was critical for us as jurors to ensure that our uniqueness as a region was reflected in the submissions,” said board member Kyo Bannai. “Portland and Maine are international destinations and proudly welcome visitors from around the world, but that’s because of a recognizable, evolving, and renowned cultural landscape that needs to be elevated and supported through this iconic new building and competition.”

The Portland Museum of Art has already attracted great architects. The 1983 addition of the Payson Building was designed by renowned Chinese-American architect IM Pei.

Each of the architects chosen for the current project 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 supervised 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 huge library and monument to reading in Spijkernisse, the Netherlands.

And Toshiko Mori designed the Tel Aviv Museum of Art Amir Building in Israel, the Menil Drawing Institute in Houston, and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art here in Rockland. Mori also owns a home in North Haven.

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