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One Portland to another: Architecture firm selected for museum expansion

Following an international design competition, LEVER Architecture of Portland, Oregon was selected to lead an expansion at the Portland (Maine) Museum of Art.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Museum of Art has selected an architecture firm from Portland, Oregon to design a new expansion. 

The announcement that LEVER Architecture had been selected came on Friday following an international design competition. 

Chandra Robinson is a principal at LEVER and told NEWS CENTER Maine four finalist teams were selected in August to design the expansion. In September, Robinson and others from LEVER came to Portland for a site visit. They returned to Portland for an interim review in October. 

LEVER would ultimately go through a public and jury presentation before being chosen, she said. 

The PMA Blueprint

A news release from the Portland Museum of Art detailed plans for the $100 million campus expansion and unification project, The PMA Blueprint. LEVER's concept imagines the museum campus unified through a "stunning and sustainable building" that connects each building. 

LEVER proposed a new building at 142 Free St. made from mass timber, terracotta, and glass. 

"[It] includes nods to Maine communities, history, and culture. The curved roofline is designed to frame the sun as it rises and sets, in honor of Maine’s Wabanaki communities (Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot Nations) and the land they call Wabanakik, or Dawnland," the release stated. 

The timber used in LEVER's design touches on both reimagining Maine's future as a hallmark of environmental stewardship and the state's lumber history, the museum stated. 

For more information on the design proposal, click here.

Focusing on community

Robinson told NEWS CENTER Maine the big idea was to unify the campus and create a wing so the museum could expand into it. 

"The PMA already has a lot of programming that's community focused. They just don't have a building that supports [the] kind of programming that they do," the principal said. 

One of the main concepts in the design is to make connections and put the museum's community-facing programming forward. 

"We wanted to make a place where there was room for community galleries and maker space for community members," Robinson said. "So, you could see something messy and people making art while you're also seeing carefully-curated art. Having those two things together is a way to help people feel more connected to art and understand, that, you know, you can be an artist. You can make art, too, and be inspired by what they're seeing."

LEVER plans to have several conversations with members of the community to determine what they want to see in the new expansion, according to the principal. 

What comes next

In the spring, LEVER plans to work with the museum to make sure it has the spaces it's looking for and the right sizes. At the same time, LEVER will do community outreach with its partner Openbox studio.

"They're going to conduct this community research and engagement process where they have lots of one-on-one interviews," Robinson said. "They create focus groups. They have larger meetings and have people really talk about, what are things they need. What makes them feel comfortable or welcome in a space? What are things that are going to make you come back to the museum and bring your family, bring your friends?"

Once they have that research, LEVER will start the process of schematic design and apply the data it collected from the community. 

As for when construction begins, Robinson said crews might break ground in January 2026. That would include demolishing the old building currently at 142 Free St. and prepping the area to get going. 

"We want to have a long design process so we make sure we're getting in as many touchpoints as we can with community members and help bring people along so they're updated on what's happening with the design. That takes a little longer."

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