The Pleasure of Prudence

PROFILE Winton Scott – July 2007

By Joshua Bodwell

Photography Darren Setlow


A world-class architect whose smart designs keep the budget in mind

In the public consciousness, a stereotype persists of the temperamental architect-artist who requires a never-ending stream of money to execute a “vision.” Skyrocketing construction costs are ignored, delays become commonplace as plan after plan is tossed into the wastebasket, and exotic materials are incorporated into designs for no apparent reason other than to use exotic materials. In reality, however, the true artists of the architectural profession are those who can create something wonderful with whatever budget they have.




One such architect is Portland’s Winton Scott. “I actually relish the challenge of frugality,” Scott says with a glint in his eye. “It seems like a particularly New England trait.” Having worked as a young man in the firms of two of the twentieth century’s most venerated architects, for the past 30 years Scott has turned his dedication and world-class talents to designing thoughtful urban redevelopment projects and affordable housing.

Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Scott also earned his architecture degree from the city’s public university in 1960. Scott became an officer in the Navy after school and was stationed on the west coast for three years. After completing his military service, Scott finally got to delve headlong into architecture. He turned down a job offer from the then relatively unknown Frank Gehry, believing at that time that more cutting-edge architecture was happening on the east coast. Scott’s decision to go east paid off when he was hired at the firm of famed Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, the designer responsible for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the Washington Dulles International Airport. While working for Saarinen, Scott served as “job captain” on the design of New York City’s Ford Foundation Building, a project that redefined the concept of an office building.

Moving from strength to strength, Scott worked as a senior project architect and designer for the revered Louis Kahn through the late 1960s. He was the project architect during the design of Kahn’s prominent Exeter Academy Library, a building that’s gone on to win the Twenty-Five Year Award for design excellence from the American Institute of Architects. Around the time Scott started working for Kahn, he also began making regular visits to Pemaquid Point in Bristol. After teaching stints at Rice University and Yale in the early 1970s, Scott moved to Maine in 1974 and opened his own architectural firm, Winton Scott Architects, in Portland.

When he first arrived, Portland was a much different place than it is today. Scott says Maine’s largest city seemed like a dry sponge in those days, surrounded by nearly every raw material imaginable and thirsty for reinvention. “It had a frontier edginess to it back then,” he recalls. “Coming up here was like moving to an outpost in Anchorage, Alaska, and that was exciting.”

Over the past three decades, only a fraction of his firm’s output has been in the field of residential design, as more civic, professional, and cultural projects have continued to capture Scott’s interest and imagination. The firm, which has grown into a closely knit team of six, has been responsible for some of Maine’s most exciting public-architecture projects, such the renovation of the award-winning Maine Maritime Museum in Bath and Portland’s Merrill Auditorium, as well as the stunning public libraries in Damariscotta and Freeport.

Today, Scott’s attention is focused on two crucial aspects of Portland’s future: the redevelopment of its waterfront and its need for affordable housing. To that end, Winton Scott Architects worked as the lead design firm on the buildings for the Ocean Gateway cruise-ship terminal, which will sit on a 24-acre parcel along Portland’s waterfront. The firm has also submitted a mixed-use design for the redevelopment of the nearby Maine State Pier, which includes a two-acre park, a four-story office building, a 200-room hotel, a maritime museum, and a fish market, as well as shops, cafés, and restaurants.

As for Scott’s commitment to housing, the firm’s Unity Village housing project off Cumberland Avenue in Portland was described in the New York Times as a “village within a city.” Work is currently underway on 100 units of mixed-income housing that Winton Scott Architects designed for Portland’s Pearl Street. Scott says that working within the Maine State Housing Authority’s budget for Pearl Place was very rewarding. “I enjoyed the subtle sculpting of forms and colors,” he says of the work it took to make the building’s exterior look handsome while remaining inexpensive, long-lasting, and relatively maintenance-free. Scott mixed corrugated industrial siding with brick on the exterior of Pearl Place, and then used soft greens and grays for accents of color. “The budget,” Scott insists, “is never an excuse for weak design.” Scott also staggered the heights of the Pearl Place buildings between three and eight stories to make it visually fit the neighborhood. “Even if you’re working with a blank site,” he says, “there is always the fabric of the city around it to consider.”

Scott may have come to Maine in the 1970s for the unspoiled coastline and raw potential of Portland, but what he’s since found is a state that is not only receptive to innovative architectural ideas, but one that has attracted an impressively collegial architectural community. Calling the city his “adopted landscape,” Scott believes Portland is in the middle of an exciting period of rebirth. In many ways, it’s hard to imagine what the city would look like today if Winton Scott had decided to set up shop elsewhere, and never put his prudent yet stylish touch on it over the last thirty years.



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