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

The Portland Museum of Art has selected four architecture and design teams representing professionals from across the world as finalists for overseeing its planned expansion and campus unification.

Chosen from more than 100 submissions were teams led by: 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.

Portland Museum of Art Director Mark Bessire stands in the Payson Wing of the building in February. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

“I think the surprise was how many major firms across the world were interested in our project,” museum Director Mark Bessire said. “We’re trying to do something different with museum structure, but this is 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 & Theatre of Maine, which it purchased in 2019.

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

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


The competition drew interest from firms representing 20 countries.

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

The new building project at 142 Free St. would include 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.

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

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

As of this week, Bessire said, the museum had raised $30 million. The project isn’t expected to be completed before 2026.


“I think each announcement will sort of trigger some interest,” he said. “Some people want to participate early, some at the middle, some at the end. And we’ve been stewarding philanthropists along the way. We don’t want anyone to be left out.”

The submissions did not include any specific details about how each architect would approach the project but were focused more on the firms’ experience and who they would bring on board as design partners, museum spokesman Graeme Kennedy said.

Each finalist has built teams of professionals, including sustainability experts, landscape architects and graphic designers, and will develop concept plans that are due in the fall. The designs will be presented publicly between Nov. 18 and Dec. 9. A winner will be selected by a jury of board members and others by year’s end.

“It was vital to us as jurors to ensure our unique character as a region was considered in the submissions,” board member Kyo Bannai said. “Portland and Maine are international destinations and proudly welcome visitors from around the world, yet this is due to a recognizable, evolving, and renowned cultural landscape that must be elevated and sustained through this new landmark building and competition.”

The Portland Museum of Art has attracted big-name architects before. The 1983 addition of the Payson Building was designed by Henry Cobb of the renowned firm led by Chinese-American architect I.M. 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, 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). Mori also owns a home in North Haven.

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