Design Distinction

FEATURE-June 2012

by Rebecca Falzano

The winners of the 2012 AIA Maine Design Awards


For the Maine chapter of the American Institute of Architects, 2012 is a year worthy of commemoration. The group is celebrating its centennial this year and, with it, 100 years of Maine architecture—from its beginnings in 1912 with founder John Calvin Stevens and his colleagues to its modern-day feats of exceptional design.
There’s another reason to celebrate: 2012 is also an AIA Design Awards year.

The biennial awards program presents an opportunity for Maine architects to submit their work for consideration by architect jurors. A few months ago, the four jurors convened in Minneapolis to deliberate on architectural design in Maine. According to this year’s Design Awards committee chair and Portland architect Scott Simons, the program is an important expression of peer support and community for Maine architects.

The committee simplified the submission process this year by making it all electronic, and it received 64 submissions—nearly double the number it received two years ago. A mix of commercial and residential projects was considered (34 residential and 30 commercial).

“We discussed having categories for the awards,” explains Simons, “but in the end decided to let the jury decide based on design excellence only.” To be considered for an award, projects had to be from 2008 or later and designed by architects who are registered in Maine and have their primary office here.

Perhaps even more than recognize the winners, the Design Awards serve as a barometer of the direction of architecture in Maine. “I think it’s an exciting time,” says Simons. “The economy has forced many of us to be better architects, to learn to do more with less, and to find creative ways to design smaller projects that still have an impact on our communities. As a community, we are becoming stronger designers as we push each other to produce better buildings. As citizens of the world, we are becoming better stewards of our environment. And as advocates for excellence in the built environment, we are getting our voices and learning to use them in more meaningful ways.”

Maine Home+Design is honored to announce the winners of the 2012 AIA Maine Design Awards.



Pond House, Mount Desert Island

Photography Peter Crane

Inspired by the local fishing shacks and wharf buildings that dot the coast of Maine, Elliott and Elliott Architecture designed this summer compound made up of three simple cottages linked by a series of decks. The retreat features large glazed openings and simple shingled New England cottages. “The project simply describes the boundary between familiar, comfortable form-making—gabled cottages—and a more modern architectural expression: large glass openings, clear spans, steel cantilevers,” says architect Matthew Elliott. One of the most notable things about the project was also the most challenging: the site. “There was an existing structure that had to be removed, so we were allowed to actually build out over the saltwater pond,” explains Elliott. In collaboration with the homeowners, interior designer Gary Ruff, general contractor Mike Temple, and Becker Structural Engineers were able to find simple and elegant solutions to the complex structural issues the project presented. “We try to understand some of the Maine archetypical structures, such as wharf buildings, agricultural structures, and grange halls. We feel that the simplicity and honesty of these buildings is something we can learn from,” says Elliott. According to lead juror Julie Snow, this project was a clear jury favorite. “The simple forms and weathered materials are carefully and sensitively detailed,” she says. “We were very taken by the stone step set on a gravel bed. The real moment is the interior space rendered as a smooth warm wood, perfectly reflecting the exterior’s gable form. Steel columns and tension cable are the only exposed structure, carefully detailed to almost disappear. The result is warm, inviting, airy, and open.”

Light steel framing and thin braces preserve the simple forms and sweeping views. The main “wharf” cottage extends over the tidal salt pond below with a structural steel frame anchored to the pond’s granite basin, and it contains the communal living spaces: kitchen, dining room, and living room. A cantilevered deck that appears to be floating above the water links interior spaces to the views beyond. The flanking cottages contain private sleeping quarters and frame views to the surrounding moss-covered forest. A fireplace flue is suspended from the roof over a 12,000-pound boulder fireplace in the middle of the living room. Large lift-slide doors blur the line between interior and exterior.

ARCHITECT: Elliott + Elliott Architecture
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Gary Ruff, Gary Ruff Interiors
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Becker Structural Engineers
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Richardson & Associates
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Peter Knuppel Lighting Design


Portland Public Library, Portland

Photography Robert Benson

The Portland Public Library wasn’t living up to its potential as a vibrant public resource for the people of Portland. The gray, featureless front of the building was the outward expression of an even less inviting interior. Scott Simons Architects transformed the formerly cold, foreboding building into a modern facility with a new glass façade that symbolizes a renewed commitment to opening library resources and information to the public and reengaging with the cultural life of the city. “The most satisfying thing about the project,” says Simons, “has been the outpouring of affection for the library since the renovations. I am hoping that more modern work will start to appear as a result of this. It has been so well received, my wish is that others will be able to create more progressive architecture without always having to have the ‘Why can’t it just be brick?’ debate with their clients.” The jurors felt that the project multi-tasked. Juror David Salmela says it is “a wonderful example of how a renovation of an existing building can produce a warm, bright interior, introduce a compelling structural statement, and enhance the context of this public square all in the same move.”

A new curtain wall encloses the unused exterior space in front of the library, creating an immediate dialogue with the square across the street. In addition to serving as a marquee and building enclosure system, the upper half of the curtain wall acts as a solar chimney, passively preheating fresh air for the mechanical system in the winter. The interior functions of the building were reorganized to bring the most public spaces to the front and into the public realm. The new entry sequence brings visitors to an intuitive understanding of how the library is organized. Two new stairways create a visual connection between the three main levels of the library, improving circulation for the patrons. A new cafe area provides a community meeting space overlooking the square.

ARCHITECT: Scott Simons Architects
PROJECT TEAM: Scott Simons, Austin Smith, Leslie
Benson, Chris Berry, Steve Fraser & Will Gatchell
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Ledgewood Construction
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Becker Structural Engineers
MEP ENGINEER: Allied Engineering, Inc.


#32 Residence, Rockport

This former blacksmith’s workshop provided a grandfathered footprint on a tiny in-town lot overlooking Goose River and Rockport Harbor. As a gallery owner, the client was strongly attracted to a minimalist aesthetic. The goal for Bernhard and Priestley Architecture was to create a crisp, contemporary home that sits comfortably among its neighbors. “A dense village setting rich with historic homes encouraged a contextual response on the exterior,” says project architect John Priestley. Juror David Dimond found the house to be at once grand and intimate. “The spare use of color combined with a limited material palette and thoughtful detailing, such as the ‘sliced’ fascia at the south façade, makes a delightful transformation of a truly unique place,” he says. “The design language of this renovation and expansion epitomizes the timeless typologies of colonial New England houses.”

Traditional elements are rendered in an austere palette of white-on-white exterior finishes, charcoal gray roofing, stainless-steel accents, and cable railings. The design pares down exterior expression to a minimum, with knife-edge eaves and simple massing. The vocabulary is familiar yet refined, simultaneously embracing the home’s historic character and its contemporary reincarnation. The entire interior is clothed in vertical boards, which are detailed with consistent, intentional gaps. Door hardware is either blind or, as for the closet doors, omitted. The boards-with-gaps theme extends to include the cabinets, bathroom vanity, and even the scored white solid-surface shower lining. An absence of baseboards, casings, molding, and trim results in a calm, composed backdrop.ARCHITECT: Bernhard & Priestley Architecture
PROJECT TEAM: Richard L. Bernhard, Tia Anderson, John Ogden & Bob Delsandro
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Albert Putnam BUILDER: Collins Builders
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Peter Knuppel Lighting Design


Fishing Camp Boathouse, Northern Wilderness

Photography Will Winkelman

Nestled on a lakeshore deep in the northern Maine wilderness, this boathouse and dock were designed for an active traditional fishing camp. The boathouse serves as the gateway for guest arrival and departure via floatplane and also provides four slips and cover for canoes and a utility skiff. Winkelman Architecture designed the structure with a classic, timeless feel, weaving it gracefully into its natural surroundings. The project was undertaken on a fast-track schedule, making the logistics of construction a major factor in the design process. In addition, the only overland access to the camp was a lengthy trek on logging roads. A major goal was to have minimal impact on the sensitive natural environment. “The project,” says architect Will Winkelman “was entwined with an extraordinary construction logistics tour de force that blended with it the ‘how to’ of crafting an artfully organic log structure. The depth of Maine’s skilled trades cannot be overstated. We are fortunate to have such talent available, and usually they have an open mind and are ready for a challenge.” Lead juror Julie Snow says the project was beautifully presented, showing the challenges and opportunities of building in a remote site. “The resulting boathouse is both primitive and sophisticated, sheltering and open to the elements—quite a remarkable effort,” she says. “We think it will become better and better as the wood ages, darkens, and grays.”

Winkelman and his team orchestrated a carefully choreographed construction process to make the boathouse (and adjacent boat shed) ready for use by June, just 10 months after conception. The logs are locally harvested eastern hemlock, a native tree that has natural rot resistance. They were skip-peeled for a rustic, unique finish and were wrapped in rugged, hand-forged steel bands that adjust for shrinkage. Great care was taken to keep the structure visually “light” while remaining robust enough to withstand the tremendous winds and snow loads that it would see in winter. The roofing is western red-cedar shakes.

ARCHITECT: Winkelman Architecture
PROJECT TEAM: Eric Sokol & Will Winkelman
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Todd Richardson, Richardson Associates



Mere Point, Brunswick

Photography Trent Bell

Designed as a guesthouse and artist studio, this 28-foot cube-style building was built on the foundation of an existing garage. The living space occupies three floors: the first floor has a kitchen and dining space under a second-floor loft, and a two-story living space that makes the compact house feel much larger. “The most difficult challenge on this project—or any—is to move architecture forward,” says architect Carol Wilson. “Rather than continue wearing the same clothes, we want to unmask ways of living that allow us to be comfortable in our own skin. We hope that the project was recognized because it met the physical challenges of architecture, the psychological needs of the client, and it is beautiful.” The jury agreed that it did. “Strategically placed glass makes airy, livable beautiful spaces,” says lead juror Julie Snow. “The house sits carefully on the open site with the garage half embedded in a rock wall that surrounds the drive. The interior is relaxed, not overly wrought, and simple open details extend to—our favorite—a large pivoting door separating stair and bedroom.”

The only addition to the existing footprint is a stairwell that doubles as a sun tower, bringing southern light into all three levels. The windows take advantage of southern sunlight for passive solar heat in the winter and appropriate screening during the summer months. The photovoltaic panels on the roof provide more than enough electricity for the energy-conscious house, and excess electricity is sent to the grid. The solar hot-water system provides an adequate supply for the homeowners, and in-floor radiant heating keeps them warm. The reuse of the existing foundation was a big conservation decision. Building materials were sourced locally, and no toxic substances were allowed. The landscape and siting of the house leave views across the site open to the water.

ARCHITECT: Carol A. Wilson Architect
PROJECT TEAM: Carol A. Wilson & Amanda Hyde GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Adrian Bossi
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: William D. Haney, Lincoln/Haney Engineering Associates
DOORS/WINDOWS: Arcadia Architectural Products
FLOORING: Vermont Plank Flooring
ROOFING: C.O. Beck & Sons Roofing
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Richardson & Associates Landscape Architects


White Mountain View, Sweden

Photography Trent Bell

The homeowners had some land and a dream to build in Maine. Unfortunately, they were living in Texas for a few more years. They started their Maine home modestly: a small, one-bedroom apartment with a bit of loft space for spillover guests, a barn for their Texas horses, and a beautiful view of the White Mountains from the porch. “The antidote to the ‘big and showy’ of Texas was the grounded New England modesty of gabled roofs with 12/12 pitch and classic saddlebag—that would quite literally house saddlebags,” says architect Jesse Thompson. The jurors loved the upside-down plan of the house, agreeing that it serves its location “perfectly” by placing the living areas high up with views, and keeping the barnlike spaces in the landscape. “The house manages to be both shingle style and a house with a character that looks like it has been added over time,” says juror Geoffrey Warner. “The doors seem to invite all manner of things to gallop at top speed through the house.”

Clean lines and black-edged windows greet visitors, barely hinting at the mountain lookout inside. Traditional red clapboards and shingles settle the home into its local context. A tough, concrete-floored mudroom scoops up southern sun and stores hiking gear and snowshoes for trips into the White Mountains. Upstairs, an open kitchen handcrafted by the contractor’s son shifts the vantage point to Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine to the west and features a suspended balcony overhanging the horse pasture below. The project made use of locally milled framing lumber, pine tongue-and-groove ceilings, and Canadian Nordic Lam black-spruce beams. Exterior foam board combined with several inches of cellulose insulation dramatically increase comfort while providing long-term energy savings. Deep-set windows and carefully sized overhangs prevent overheating in summer while maximizing winter sunlight.

ARCHITECT: Kaplan Thompson Architects
PROJECT TEAM: Jesse Thompson & Jamie Broadbent BUILDER: Warren Williamson
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Casco Bay Engineering


Beach Pavilion, Goose Rocks Beach

Photography Brian Vanden Brink

With a footprint of just 900 square feet, this Goose Rocks Beach house was designed by architect Carol Wilson to maximize every last square inch of space. The first floor features a changing room, a gathering space, and a summer kitchen. On the second floor, a bunkroom, guest bedroom, and reading nook look down on the jagged seawall below. The third-floor office and deck take advantage of panoramic views of the islands. To the east, high windows maintain privacy from a public-access path to the beach and the neighboring house. According to Wilson, the project was challenging due to its very tight setback limits and height limitation. Juror David Salmela says the project was recognized for its pragmatic framing concept. “We all liked the way it floated above the ground,” he says, “and how its small scale kept a very contemporary structure in context with its more traditional-looking neighbors.”

The house’s 900-square-foot footprint feels much larger because the design takes advantage of views and light. The south and west walls slide open, creating a space similar to a screened-in porch. Rather than apply for a variance from the town and Department of Environmental Protection, the homeowners sought to construct a building that, along with walks and the driveway, covers no more than 20 percent of an already nonconforming lot. In addition, the house meets a requirement for a minimum of 3 feet of clearance below the structure and an overall building height that does not exceed 30 feet. Both are accomplished by the use of a steel frame and a thin wooden deck. Facing due south, the house receives substantial heat through passive solar gain. The cedar for the doors and windows comes from certified forests.

ARCHITECT: Carol A. Wilson Architect
PROJECT TEAM: Carol A. Wilson, Gavin L. Engler
GENERAL CONTRACTOR: Spang Builders, Tim Spang, Norm Laliberte & Joel Ewer
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: William D. Haney, Lincoln/Haney Engineering Associates
STRUCTURAL STEEL: Megquier & Jones
MECHANICAL: Jim Godbout Plumbing & Heating
DOORS/WINDOWS: Oslo Doors & Windows Ltd.
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture


Ranch Revival, Portland

Photography Trent Bell

The homeowners—architect Jesse Thompson and fiber artist Betsy Scheintaub—searched for two years for the so-called “fixer-upper” of their dreams before they found it: an inexpensive 1960s ranch within walking distance of their kids’ school and close enough to downtown Portland that they could ride bikes to work. The hope was that they could renovate it into an affordable, stylish, comfortable home for their family. Juror David Dimond considers the project a beautiful design solution that “inventively up-scales an average rambler with clean space, simple materials, and beautiful light.” “I was particularly impressed,” he says, “with the [projected] LEED Platinum achievement on a very affordable budget of $85 per square foot.”

The house adds a striking presence to a neighborhood that hasn’t seen any new construction in a few decades, but it also sets a quiet-colored tone with its dark-stained hemlock siding and salvaged slate base and chimney. In the living room, a curved plaster ceiling defines the kitchen and dining room. It rises to 12 feet over the sunny main living space, where the Scandinavian woodstove (the only source of heat in the house) makes a strong visual impact. The roughly 1,000-square-foot footprint was expanded to 1,900 square feet. The only additions were a compact two-bedroom suite upstairs for the kids and a refinished breezeway that was added to the heated envelope.

ARCHITECT: Kaplan Thompson Architects
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Structural Integrity
SUBCONTRACTORS: Rising Tide Custom Builders, RTR Builders, DSO Fabrications, Port City Drywall, Day Hardwoods & Ryan’s Plumbing
INTERIOR DESIGNER: Betsy Scheintaub, Bobbin Studio


Miyake Restaurant

Photography James R. Salomon Photography

It didn’t take long for Portland sushi restaurant Miyake to receive national acclaim despite operating as a tiny hole-in-the-wall in the West End. Prior to this project, the restaurant didn’t even have enough room for two chefs to work at the same time, and it had been turning customers away nightly due to its undersized 20-seat dining room. According to architect Jesse Thompson, the new design sought to create a quiet, serious space where the food is the focus. The traditional trappings of a restaurant are hidden from view—no glass fish case, visible wine bottles, or stemware—and the only visible lighting is a few glowing pendants over the bar that allow patrons to better see the chefs working in front of them. According to juror Geoffrey Warner, the committee appreciated the effect that a few simple materials had on the interior. “The architects—like seasoned chefs—presented few ingredients well, and created a place both elegant and without fussiness,” says Warner.

A milled birch-plywood ceiling evokes a forest canopy, concealing the messy reality of a low-ceilinged commercial space. The “bento-box” cutouts in the ceiling plane fold down to provide the main facade treatment. One-hundred-year-old reclaimed pickle-barrel wood was used in the bar top. Affordable, stained plywood was used instead of exotic veneers, and concealed flexible lighting was used instead of expensive fixtures, integrating them into the canopy above and allowing for repositioning as the restaurant changes over time.

ARCHITECT: Kaplan Thompson Architects
PROJECT TEAM: Jesse Thompson, Robin Tannenbaum & Morgan Law
BUILDER: Kevin Flaherty, KevCo Construction
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Kaplan Thompson Architects
TEXTILE DESIGN & INSTALLATION: Betsy Scheintaub, Bobbin Studio