ROCKLAND — Two words sum up architect Toshiko Mori’s decision to design the new Center for Maine Contemporary Art: North light.

The building at 21 Winter St. faces north. “It’s so rare when you get a gallery with direct north light,” Mori said. The opportunity to design a building with such good light “was a major attraction.”

North light is indirect. It is cooler, cleaner and crisper, and it creates softer shadows.

Artists like to paint in it, and galleries love to show work in it. Because of the state’s place in the hemisphere and angle to the sun, Maine has natural atmospheric conditions that artists love. That’s why so many painters have come here, Mori said. “There’s no other place like Maine to paint.”

She designed the new CMCA with her artist friends in mind. She enclosed the museum in glass, allowing as much light to enter as possible. A saw-toothed roof filters light into the spacious galleries from above. An open-air courtyard will accommodate outdoor pieces.

Her galleries are large, open and purposeful, big enough for large-scale installations. The ceiling of the largest gallery is 22 feet high in spots, 16 in others.


But it’s not about size, Mori said. “It’s about the proportion of space that makes things work.”

Mori lives in New York most of the year, where she operates her firm. She teaches at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and is widely decorated for her work. Architectural Digest named her one of the top 100 architects in the world in 2014 and 2016.

She also has a home on North Haven and has spent the past 32 years coming in and out of Rockland by car and by boat. She knows the city well and has what she calls “a natural rapport” with Rockland and its artists. Mori has filled her North Haven home with paintings, sculpture and prints by Lois Dodd, Eric Hopkins, Robert Indiana and other artists associated with Rockland and the midcoast. Two decades ago, she helped the Farnsworth Art Museum with a major renovation.

Mori feels connected to the city and its artists, and she likes how Rockland is changing. “This is an opportunity to continue this moment of resurgence,” she said.

As she walked through the museum in the spring, with construction still going on, she found herself admiring a large, open room. She stepped in and looked around. “This is actually quite spacious and beautiful,” she said, laughing. She was standing in what would become the coat closet.

Mori has created a beautiful building, where even the closet is a thing to marvel over.


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