The Inspiration of Place


By Joshua Bodwell

Maine hosts the AIA New England Conference and Design Awards

intro.jpg Maine’s dramatic landscape has always roused the very best designs from architects working within its borders. To paraphrase James A. Sterling, an award-winning Maine architect: let’s face it, this place is inspiring and architects want to work here.

MH+D is proud to announce that four Maine projects have earned design awards from the New England chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA New England)—an organization that represents more than 5,000 members and associate members from eight AIA New England chapters.

The award-winners—a mix of residential, educational, cultural, and institutional designs—are proof that no matter a project’s ultimate use, excellence is the thread that binds so many designs in Maine.

Once every eight years, the Maine chapter of AIA (AIA Maine) hosts architects from around the Northeast for the AIA New England Conference and the presentation of the year’s Design Awards. During the first weekend of October, the conference and award ceremonies will take place in Portland.

The weekend will include roundtable discussions (such as the provocatively titled “The Frustration of LEED”) and myriad tours of local architectural attractions, including historic homes by Maine’s reigning old-guard architect John Calvin Stevens and several new green-design buildings in the area.

“There is a greater awareness of design in Maine than ever before,” says AIA Maine president Carol De Tine, who is proud that four prjoects in the state have won AIA New England awards. De Tine says that while Maine has a wonderfully celebrated architectural history, seeing recognition for today’s designs is, “certainly validating.”

In architecture, validation is not something easily given; it is earned. Validation comes to those capable of considering a project’s every detail and contextualizing it—those who can take their artistic vision and see it exectuted to perfection.

MH+D extends its congratulations to this year’s award-winning architects and the builders. Every infusion of bold, cutting-edge design within the state is not mearly another notch in Maine’s belt, but a harbinger of even greater things to come.

Maine Projects Recognized
by AIA New England:
Honor Awards

Machado and Silvetti Associate
Bowdoin College Museum of Art

William Rawn Associates
Studzinski Recital Hall at Bowdoin College


Merit Awards

James Sterling
Community Resource Center

Elliott Elliott Norelius Architecture
House on an Island


Merit Award

Elliott Elliott Norelius Architecture elliot.jpg
House on an Island
Builder: Stewart Construction
Photography: Brian Vanden Brink


Elliott Elliott Norelius Architecture’s Merit Award-winning home on Blue Hill Bay is a cluster of small, glass-fronted structures with gently arching metal roofs that resemble the half hulls of old ships overturned in a field of wildflowers.

Matthew Elliott, who worked with partner Bruce Norelius and project architect Matt O’Malia to shape the home, says the home’s site drove the design: “We had the woody north and the sunny south.” This pragmatic approach, combined with the homeowner’s lack of preconceptions about the design, led to dramatic results.

“The back is low and protected, and the front is open and sunny,” says Elliott. Thanks to the home’s steel frame by Portland’s Becker Structural Engineering, two doors in the kitchen wall slide aside to create an eight-by-twenty-foot opening; the master bedroom wall opens to eight-by-ten-feet.

Inside, walnut and maple abounds, softening the curving steel columns and abundant glass. “Rather than making everything built-in, there are lots of objects and pieces that show off the natural woods,” says Elliott.

The home is both dazzling and modest—with spruce siding spaced more tightly than usual and mahogany trim, it’s long, low profile recedes modestly into the tree line.


machiado.jpg Honor Award

Machado and Silvetti Associates
Bowdoin College Museum of Art
Builder: Consigli Construction
Photography: Facundo Zuviria

“It’s a jewel-like building that everybody loves—everybody,” stresses architect Jorge Silvetti when discussing Bowdoin College’s historic Walker Art Building. Last autumn, Machado and Silvetti Associates’ renovation and expansion of the circa-1894 building opened to rave reviews—AIA New England deemed the project worthy of an Honor Award.

The realization that it was impossible to meet accessibility requirements without destroying the building’s historic facade led Boston-based Machado and Silvetti to what is perhaps project’s boldest design move: the creation of a new entrance and separate building to contain it. “That opened up a completely new game,” says Silvetti with joy in his voice.

By placing their new shimmering glass entrance to one side, Silvetti says the building suddenly had a less delineated front and back. “At the end of the day,” he says, “a building that used to have its back to the town and front to the campus is now a ‘building in the round.’”

The renovation ultimately led to a sixty-three-percent increase in the size museum (much of it underground) and more than 2,100 square feet of new gallery space—all without blemishing the iconic building that serves as the backdrop for Bowdoin’s graduation ceremonies.



Merit Award sterling.jpg

James Sterling
Community Resource Center
Builder: Wright-Ryan Construction
Photography: Bernard Meyers

In 2006, architect James A. Sterling’s Community Resource Center on Preble Street in Portland took AIA Maine’s top honor: the Award for Excellence. Juried against a field of designs from across New England, the Community Resource Center was one of just two projects in Maine to receive a Merit Award from AIA New England.

The new building grew out of the need to expand Preble Street’s ability to serve those struggling with homelessness, hunger, and poverty. “This design did not try to disguise the reality of the situation,” says Sterling, noting that even the yellow interior wall of corragated steel beyond a tall expanse of glass is a gesture to the agency’s values of transparency and openness. Landscape architect Mitchell Rasor’s steel benches in the courtyard slant from high to low, offering a welcoming place to gather in the heart of the city for those utilizing the center.

The project is close to Sterling’s heart, and his original concept for the design is as simple as it is ambitious: “I wanted it to feel appropriate for its use but not clinical, functional but architecturally crisp and urban.”

Sterling first interviewed eighty people involved with the center before he began work on the design. “I can’t emphasize enough how huge a contributor this agency was to the success of this design,” he says.



rawn.jpg Honor Award

William Rawn Associates
Studzinski Recital Hall at Bowdoin College
Builder: H.P. Cummins Construction
Photography: Robert Benson

Many architects might be daunted if asked to reimagine a building designed by the famed architecture firm McKim, Mead and White. But William Rawn Associates’ conversion of Bowdoin College’s circa-1927 pool house into a warm and organic yet state-of-the-art recital hall earned the Boston-based firm an Honor Award from AIA New England.

“We wanted to breathe new life into an old gem,” says architect Clifford Gayley, the associate principal in charge of the project. While the building’s exterior was preserved, the interior underwent a radical transformation.

A collaboration with acoustical consultants Kirkegaard Associates of Chicago, Illinois, and Theatre Projects Consultants of South Norwalk, Connecticut, led to the construction of an intimate hall with 280 blue-velvet and maple seats, gently curving aisles, a profusion of birch paneling.

Five massive pylons on either side of the sunken stage—which is surrounded by seating—are covered in brass mesh and feature interior curtains that can either be lowered to absorb sound or raised to enhance the auditory experience. “The room is therefore tunable,” says Gayley, whose firm is revered for the Boston Symphony’s Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood.

“The arts are erupting everywhere on the Bowdoin campus right now,” adds Gayley, “and we drew inspiration from that.”

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