Last year, when AIA Maine put out a call for submissions for its 2019 Design Awards, 57 projects piled up from 29 architecture firms across the state. They ranged from a modern retreat set atop steel columns on a remote stretch of coast to a reimagined townhouse on a tricky infill lot, to an $8 million school expansion and an office-turned-airy-fitness-studio completed on a $125,000 budget.
Awards were given in commercial, residential, renovation, small project, and unbuilt categories, with the latter open to commercial projects and students for the first time. “There are so many groundbreaking projects being done in such a wide range of settings,” says Jeannette Schram, executive director of AIA Maine, the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects. “We wanted to be as inclusive as possible and celebrate the various ways in which our members’ work is being realized.”
To review the submissions, AIA Maine teamed up with the Architectural Society of Iceland to assemble a jury of six Icelandic commercial and residential architects. Why pick judges based more than 2,300 miles away? “We saw so many connections between our values and the design quandaries that our architects have to solve,” Schram says. “Architects in both communities share a reverence for nature and historic character, and must contend with the same challenges posed by harsh weather, precarious topography, and climate change.”
The judges had free reign to assess the projects on aesthetic, technical, functional, and/or sustainability merits and designate as many winners as they wished. In the end, they landed on 13, which we at Maine Homes by Down East are honored to share with you here.
THE ARCHITECTS SAY: Located in Portland’s historic West End, the 34,000-square-foot Lower School was designed to reflect the scale and rhythm of the neighborhood. It is connected to the school’s original building, the 121-year-old Founders Hall, and is designed to achieve Passive House certification. The school houses early childhood through fifth grade students. It aims to create a sense of shared community among students, families, and faculty, while also fostering a distinct sense of identity for each age group. A central atrium, climbing lofts, and the use of natural daylight connect the interior of the high-performance building to the outdoors.
THE JURY SAYS: The architects managed to create a modern addition to the school setting and existing neighboring context that, through scale, material, and massing, adds and enhances that context. The interiors are bright, welcoming, and open, and continue the sensitive external character throughout, [resulting in] a clear and precise design that engages and encourages young students in play and learning. Color, lighting, and furniture are critical to the overall light and intriguing ambience that give the spaces their playful yet calm character.
THE ARCHITECTS SAY: Englishman Bay is known for its rugged coastline and pristine landscape. The client would walk from his family’s camp through the spruces and birches to a secluded pebble beach, over time wearing a path under the tree canopy. He approached us to design a home for his family along the same path. He wanted a rustic camp feel, with warm, natural materials that would blend with the surrounding forest and allow for ocean views. We arranged the spaces within the house so that morning light would come in through the kitchen and sunsets would be visible in the bedrooms. Perching the house on columns limited the site disturbance and improved the view. The vistas are carefully curated so that pockets of ocean, distant headlands, and sky are visible. A three-season porch with tall windows connects the kitchen and dining area with the bedroom wing. Local materials are used throughout the house — the outside is clad in eastern hemlock, while the interior walls and ceilings are made of locally sourced eastern white pine.
THE JURY SAYS: This project creates a successful balance between nature [and] architecture, [with a] simplicity and sensitivity for details that elevate it above the [ordinary]. Raising the house up on stilts does not seem overpowering, but rather humble in the way it leaves the topography for nature, while clearing the way for views. The project conjures a nostalgic feeling through its [use of] intimate interior spaces and a fort-like viewing deck. The feeling of being up in the trees bestows a [sense] of playfulness. The detailing and material selection is well thought out and beautifully executed.
THE ARCHITECTS SAY: The structure of the Cornerspring Montessori School is informed by Montessori philosophy, which emphasizes independent learning, outdoor activity, and interaction among different age groups. The single-story building houses five classrooms with direct access to the outdoors and bends at its center to create a flexible common space. The classrooms can be combined to facilitate multi-age activities. In a contemporary nod to the archetypal rural schoolhouse, a cantilevered gable announces the main entrance. The structure meets Passive House standards, so the school has been able to dramatically lower its operating expenses, even as its distinctive profile has raised its visibility.
THE JURY SAYS: A simple project at a glance, this seems carefully crafted in both its plan and sustainability strategy. The simple exterior belies well-crafted and elegant spaces within, where the spatial quality is made with light and materiality in a simple and effortless way.
Timothy Lock, AIA
Matthew O’Malia, AIA, Riley Pratt, Alexandra Pagan, Michael Bailey
THE ARCHITECT SAYS: This 2,800-square-foot home was inspired by modern Nordic forms that appealed to the client’s preference for a minimalist aesthetic. The home, which sits atop a steep ridge, is comprised of three simple shifted gable structures that break up the massing and respond to the site’s challenging topography. The single-floor living space is designed to take full advantage of the landscape. Multiple views in every room give occupants a direct visual connection to the surrounding woodlands, while the siting of the building allows for optimal solar gain. To harmonize with the natural forested setting, the exterior of the home is clad in Maine cedar. Inside, walls, ceilings, floors, and countertops are hewn of birch and soapstone.
THE JURY SAYS: The simple archetypal volumes and simple plan respond well to the complex topography of the site. The minimal interior and exterior are thought through in terms of materiality and detail. The stepping forms of the building create varied outdoor spaces and outdoor connections. [These connections, along with] the carefully framed views strengthen the relationship between building and site. A good example of less is more.
THE ARCHITECTS SAY: Located in the Bates Mill Complex in downtown Lewiston, the Pub at Baxter Brewing brought new life to a nearly 170-year-old textile mill that once employed 6,000 people but had sat empty for decades. The design pays homage to the region’s rich manufacturing heritage. A wrought-iron gate frames a path lined with gas torches. As you enter, 25-foot-tall ceilings draw your eyes to the mezzanine that sits above a 35-seat, horseshoe-shaped bar. Original flooring was reused for the bar, tables, and cabinetwork. LED Edison-style lighting complements the restored interior woodwork and brick.
THE JURY SAYS: This is a well-executed restoration project where craftsmanship is evident and detailing is exemplary in the recovery of the existing structure. The double-story opening gives the project variation and lightness and underlines the appropriation of the building for the new use. Pubs in old warehouses might be a well-known genre, but the extent of this work merits an award.
THE ARCHITECT SAYS: Located on a tightly regulated infill lot of less than 3,000 square feet in Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood, this project draws on the townhouse model, with rooms arranged in linear fashion from front to rear. To maximize views, we located the three bedrooms on the second floor and reserved the third floor for the kitchen, dining, and living spaces. From a glazed entry vestibule on the ground floor, a main staircase rises through three levels to a rooftop deck that offers panoramic vistas of the harbor and Casco Bay islands. Windows — triple-glazed for energy efficiency — are strategically located to maximize views, natural lighting, solar gain, and privacy. The building shell delivers energy performance that approaches the Passive House standard.
THE JURY SAYS: This project is a convincing example of urban infill. The bright and attractive stairwell resolves the obvious downsides to a three-story apartment with limited options for side windows. It seems to radiate a sense of Japanese simplicity and Scandinavian warmth. Materiality is well [executed] throughout; bright and beautiful spaces create a successful whole.
Matthew O’Malia, AIA, Michael Bailey
THE ARCHITECTS SAY: This $2.9 million renovation of a 1905 fire station in the heart of downtown for municipal offices included uncovering the original brick and granite façade from behind a flat brick veneer that had been added in the 1970s. The preserved historic fabric was revealed on the exterior, and accentuated on the interior, the original brown board sheathing and floor joists were exposed alongside new, blond, rough-sawn reinforcing wood members. Accessible entrances were improved by re-grading, eliminating ramps, and creating an outdoor seating area. New entryways capitalize on historic openings, combining traditional and modern materials to create warm, light-filled spaces.
THE JURY SAYS: The renovation of the front façade merits special citation for removing a detrimental addition and adapting the building to modern standards.
Robert Tillotson, AIA, Kenneth Weston, AIA
Peter MacGovern, Stephen Towne, Allison DiMatteo, David Martin, Jason Chenard, Wayne Whippie
CMGC Building Corp.
THE ARCHITECTS SAY: Our client wanted to save the structure of this 150-year-old barn and transform the 1,700-square-foot interior into a workshop and entertainment space. The team engineered new skeletal supports with custom Douglas fir glulam beams and trusses to bolster the spindly floor and roof members. Additional beams were cantilevered through the façade for a second-floor deck. One end wall was replaced with a glass curtain wall that reaches from ground to gable. The interior was clad with siding salvaged from the exterior and multiple layers of paint were removed to expose the natural character of the wood. The exterior was redone with new stained red-cedar lap siding and trim and a bronze standing-seam metal roof.
THE JURY SAYS: This project beautifully exemplifies how tradition and history can be maintained and extended through adaptive reuse of an existing structure. Insertions and transformations are surgically thought out and executed by the architects.
THE ARCHITECT SAYS: Our clients had a modest budget of $125,000 and a desire to transform a dark, derelict, uninspiring office space into a fitness and yoga studio that elevated the mind, body, and spirit. The goal was to open up the 2,700-square-foot space to allow in as much natural light as possible from the street-facing window, while adding clean lines and a select few design elements. We incorporated original historic elements that we discovered during the demolition — including masonry walls, a largely preserved tin ceiling, and previously concealed steel columns — into the design of the new space to maximize functionality while celebrating the building’s history.
THE JURY SAYS: This project is an excellent example of how, in many reuse situations, the removal becomes the most powerful design tool. A few simple design decisions, like the dark-painted top quarter of the walls, give the project that added edge.
THE ARCHITECT SAYS: Our team proposed a development that captures the natural and historic attributes of this location, while also providing a vibrant urban experience. The design centers around a mixed-use development with bike and pedestrian accessibility to work, dining, shops, health care, City Hall, and natural environments. The property borders the Androscoggin River and provides bike and pedestrian access to the Riverwalk and retail shops in Auburn and Lewiston. The proposed mixed-use development includes a new brewery with a tasting room, a new restaurant, office space, meeting rooms, and apartments, with accessibility to outside dining. Renewable power generation in the form of roof-mounted solar panels will make the business and residential properties net zero.
THE JURY SAYS: The buildings successfully dialogue with the neighboring context through scale, windows, and massing.
THE ARCHITECTS SAY: Nectar is designed for building in remote locations. All the structural elements are easily transported. Bathrooms and kitchens are prefabricated and helicoptered in. Nectar is part of nature. Sleeping huts and a lodge allow for privacy and communal space — smaller groups can combine into a larger tribe. The huts are zippered together, high-tech, textile sandwiches made from materials that provide off-grid warmth. The lodge is nestled into a large rock outcropping and has a planted green roof to minimize its visual impact on the site. Like the huts, the enclosure of the lodge may be reconfigured for different seasons.
THE JURY SAYS: In Nectar, the architect is tackling elemental forms through hexagons of different scales. Playfulness and lightness contrasted with the highly structured hexagons create a potentially interesting dialogue between the buildings and nature.
Paul Lewandowski, AIA, Brad Baker, AIA
THE ARCHITECT SAYS: This proposal is for a wilderness lodge for Maine Huts & Trails in the backcountry of Carrabassett Valley. It will be part of a 180-mile trail network intended for skiing, camping, and year-round hiking. The lodge — which occupies a sloped, deforested clearing at the nexus of old logging roads that are being transformed into hiking and mountain bike trails — is an open, one-story pavilion constructed of cross-laminated timber elements. A series of A-frame structures on the rooftop provide panoramic views of Caribou Pond and Sugarloaf Mountain. The building is designed to be disassembled and moved when the surrounding forest has reached maturity and is ready to be harvested for timber.
THE JURY SAYS: This project tackles a debate between nature as a physical resource and experiential resource, which we Icelanders can relate to. The analysis and sketches are convincing and promise an exciting project where the vitality of that debate is manifest.
THE DESIGNER SAYS: The goal of this project is to maximize the health, safety, and happiness of dairy cows, while also facilitating efficient milk production. To enhance ventilation, the sloped barn roof features mechanized louvers with horizontal slats that welcome fresh air in. Research has shown that natural light enhances milk production, so the windows are set eye-high for the cows. The barn has an open-concept design that allows the cows to wander freely to feed, drink, exercise, and lie down as they wish, rather than being confined to a single stall. The roof — an encased, portal-frame, steel structure — is designed to deter birds from nesting in the barn.
THE JURY SAYS: This is a beautifully executed conceptual process that rationalizes a simple, but fundamental, overhaul of dairy barn design. The design results in a fundamental transformation of the barn as an architectural typology for the betterment of milk production and the well being of the cattle.