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Portland's Architects: The Bounty of the Built Environment

Architcture in portland, amine, photo by corey templeton

Happy is the city with great architecture. In Portland, that happy list includes the brick edifices along Commercial Street, the varied homes of the West End, the Wishcamper and Abromson buildings at USM, the Observatory, the Victorian houses perched in Deering Highlands, the Art Museum – an embarrassment of riches.

Happy, too, is the city, with great architects. In Portland, we have long supported significant architects, going back to the 19th Century, with Francis Fassett and John Calvin Stephens and Frederick Law Olmsted (what, you didn’t know? After New York's Central Park, Olmsted designed Deering Oaks).

Today, the hundreds of members of the Portland Society of Architects (PSA) encourage “…innovation and vision in design and planning” throughout the city. The PSA offers a wealth of programs, from the “Unbuilt Design Awards” to “10 Minute Architect” (a free clinic for anyone thinking about whether they need an architect) to last year's Symposium on Sea Level Rise and the biannual “Drink’n Crit.”

What is “Drink’n Crit”?  Twice a year, the PSA recreates the student experience of an architectural studio. Only this time around, the students are local professionals who, with some trepidation, present their current projects to the public, as well as a critical review by fellow architects. Unlike an actual charette in architecture school, this event does not involve pulling an all-nighter!

The most recent Drink’n Crit was on March 12th, at the SPACE Gallery on Congress Street. As guests milled about, talked, and had a beer, four architectural teams were taping drawings and photos of their projects on the walls. The team of jurors was introduced and then, one by one, each team presented its project and listened to the critiques.

The crowd may have been most energized by the team working with the City of Portland to re-imagine the several blocks of Spring Street that bisect much of downtown, past the Holiday Inn and the Civic Center.  Should Spring Street be two lanes wide, instead of four? Become a “bicycle boulevard”? Foster new garden spaces and stairways leading off to other streets?

The suggestions flew fast and furious, and the give-and-take was emblematic of the best of Portland. Some of us worked for the city, some of us worked in the city, some of us lived in the city – but all of us cared deeply about the city, wanting it always to be a better place.

If you, too, want to weigh in on Portland’s built landscape, Greater Portland Landmarks and Maine Historical Society are co-hosting a series of panel discussions about specific streets and spaces demanding our attention (including Spring Street, and our bridges, and our waterfront). Step up to the microphone and state your opinion!

Commercial Street and Wishcamper Center, University of Sourthern Maine, photos by Corey Templeton

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