Charles Shipman Payson Building, Portland Museum of Art

This addition to a small regional museum draws inspiration from the rich vernacular tradition of New England seaport architecture.

Fronting on a major public square and surrounded by historic structures, the expansion provides extensive new facilities while respecting the living presence of the past. The building has been designed for Maine, using Maine materials and housing Maine art, with special attention paid in the galleries to the nuances of local light.

Composed of identical spatial units, the building is a visible aggregation of similarly sized spaces that are combined into diverse gallery configurations within a unified whole. This strategy creates a range of spaces that are both intimate and grand, allowing the visitor to experience a rich but disciplined elaboration of space throughout.

Show Facts

A 1.5-acre site fronting on Congress Square, on a major public square in downtown Portland


62,800 ft2 / 6,000 m2 gross area; skylit exhibition galleries, auditorium, library, museum shop, administrative offices, boardroom, conference and meeting rooms, landscaped gardens


Portland Society of Art, Portland, Maine

PCF&P Services

Architecture, exterior envelope, interior design

lead designer

Henry N. Cobb


National Honor Award
American Institute of Architects, 1985

25 Year Award
American Institute of Architects, Portland (Maine) Chapter, 2011

Clad in water-struck brick with granite trim, the building asserts an emblematic presence in a public square but then steps progressively downward to grant primacy to its smaller historic neighbors within the museum campus.
Domed clerestories allow controlled daylight from above to suffuse, shape, and animate the exhibition galleries below.
The facade contains the key to the modular system that governs the entire building. The parapet rises above the roof to engage the sky and assert the museum’s special role in defining and ornamenting Congress Square.
Project Credits

Architectural Consultant: Terrien Architects, Portland, ME; Structural: Skilling, Helle, Christiansen, Robertson, New York; Mechanical / Electrical: Kunstadt Associates, New York; Lighting: Jules Fisher & Paul Marantz, New York; Landscape: Hanna/Olin, Philadelphia; Images: Steve Rosenthal, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Judith Turner