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Portland Museum of Art announces architects for $100 million expansion

The PMA has chosen a Portland firm — Portland, Ore., that is — LEVER Architecture

Design for expansion of Portland Museum of Art.LEVER Architecture, courtesy Portland Museum of Art /Dovetail Design Strategists

The Portland Museum of Art announced Friday that it has selected LEVER Architecture for its $100 million expansion. The expansion will consist of building a new wing and unifying the PMA campus, which currently comprises its signature Payson Building, Sweat Memorial Galleries, and McLellan House and Clapp House, both dating from the 19th century.

The new design will add some 60,000 square feet of community, gallery, and public space to the museum.

LEVER is based in Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles. Noted for its emphasis on sustainability, the firm includes among its projects a renovation of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Los Angeles headquarters; renovation and expansion of the Oregon Nature Center, in (the other) Portland; and work on the Princeton University Art Museum.


“We are really excited,” the PMA’s director, Mark Bessire, said in a telephone interview Friday. “We’ve been thinking about this [expansion] for years.”

LEVER was chosen in a design competition that drew entries from 104 teams, from 20 countries. In making its selection, the PMA jury took into account not just the design proposals but also extensive public feedback.

“Trying to make creativity visible was one key component” of what the jury was looking for, Bessire said. “Another one was designing for people who aren’t coming to a museum.”

He praised LEVER for being “both visionary and very practical” and “tying its design into a building that really should be in Maine.”

Design for interior of new wing of Portland Museum of Art.LEVER Architecture, courtesy Portland Museum of Art /Dovetail Design Strategists

“One of the challenges we had is making a building really tied to place, using the community-engagement information the PMA had been gathering for a long time,” LEVER principal Chandra Robinson said in a Zoom interview Friday.

The new wing, situated at 142 Free St., will be made of timber, terracotta, and glass. The use of timber is one of several tributes to Maine’s past and present. Another is the building’s curved roofline. Its framing of sunrise and sunsets honors the traditions of Maine’s Wabanaki communities.


Robinson has an unexpected personal connection to Maine. “When I was younger,” she said, “I did a lot of sea kayaking as a guide and I paddled in a lot of different places. Mostly Casco Bay, but also up in Penobscot Bay. A lot of time on the water.”

One of the challenges LEVER faced was honoring the presence of the Payson Building, designed by Henry Cobb, as it enlarged and altered the PMA campus. “We try to take the idea that this is a significant building, but it’s not static,” Robinson said. “We don’t want to change it. We want to make it better. The Payson Building still has that character and presence, and we’re not changing that.”

Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.