Portland Campus Development Project

Architectural Notes

An architectural rendering of the second floor of the new Career & Student Success Center

An architectural rendering of the future Career & Student Success Center second floor.


The construction of our new Career & Student Success Center, Portland Commons Residence Hall, and Residential Quad will be a transformative project for the University of Southern Maine (USM). These buildings tell our story of being dedicated to the education and practice of living a sustainable lifestyle; welcoming people of all cultures, abilities, and backgrounds; and being an innovative engine that drives the State’s economy.

The Portland Commons Residence Hall, anchoring the corners of Durham and Bedford Streets, complements the design of our Osher Map Library and Wishcamper Center. Together the structures will frame a prominent arrival to the center of our Portland campus.

Portland Commons will meet our three key objectives of providing affordable housing, meeting the highest sustainability standards, and adding an aesthetically pleasing cornerstone to the campus entryway. 

Reflecting the geometry of the Durham and Bedford Street intersection, the four wings of the Hall form a parallelogram that encloses a half-acre semi-private residential courtyard.

A five-story portion frames Bedford Street and the new Residential Quad and a higher, eight-story portion frames Durham Street and the northern edge of the courtyard. The height of the lower Bedford Street wing is approximately the same height of the Wishcamper Center and directly across the street.  

The lower Bedford Street wing of the Portland Commons turns to run parallel to Durham Street, forming the eastern edge of our new one-acre Residential Quad. 

The Residential Quad is an open, gently sloping green lawn that will become the signature open space for USM, framed by Masterton Hall on the west, the new Portland Commons on the east, and the new Career & Student Success Center on the north. 

The Career & Student Success Center serves as a fulcrum in the overall campus plan, reconciling the non-parallel geometries of Bedford and Falmouth Streets. 

The façade facing Bedford Street terminates the University Quad and offers a south-facing grand portico, providing comfortable shade in the spring, summer, and fall while offering weather protection in the winter. The west façade parallels the east façade of Masterton Hall and defines an important north-south cross-campus connector. The north facade parallels Falmouth Street and forms the southern edge of a series of east-west green spaces that connect the campus from the Law School to the Sullivan Gymnasium, anticipating future campus building projects to the north along Falmouth Street. 

In sum, the Career & Student Success Center is a true center of the Campus. Bustling with activity from dawn until late in the evening, this building becomes a crossroads for both residential and commuter students, faculty, staff, and community members. It connects three important open spaces and becomes a welcoming social hub for all.

Creating buildings that are didactically sustainable, welcoming, and tied directly to the visual language of the nearby campus buildings are imperatives for the design. The Portland Commons is woven into the fabric of the campus, while the Student Success Center becomes the iconic center of the campus. 

The buildings draw their material palette and fenestration patterns both from the immediate context of the campus and the “heart of Portland” – the downtown and the waterfront.

The lower wings of the residence hall are characterized by a highly transparent ground floor along Bedford Street.

The ground floor features the entry lobby, a community kitchen, a communal space, two seminar rooms, and a bike room. Large glass panels allow views into and out of these spaces, activating the sidewalk throughout the day and late into the evening, spilling light onto the sidewalk and making the campus a more welcoming, attractive, and safe place. 

A long horizontal canopy leads pedestrians from the Wishcamper crosswalk and the corner of the Residential Quad along Bedford Street to the entrance. This canopy separates the public, transparent base of the building from the more private residences above, which are characterized by a regular grid of large windows punched into a panelized façade and five vertical bay windows, which mark the living rooms of select apartments. 

Up above, along Durham Street, the taller, eight-story wings of the residence hall consist of lighter materials, both in weight and color. The upper ranges of all the facades are a combination of large widows, cement fiber panels, and metal panels, creating a basketweave of windows and metal panels that alternate within bands of fiber-cement panels. These volumes are clad in the lighter panel colors to lessen their visual weight and tie them to the lighter modern architecture of the Wishcamper Center and Osher Map Library upper stories. Incidentally, the lighter colors and materials of these two taller wings also serve to reflect more light into the residential courtyard, making it more enjoyable in all seasons. 

The intersection of the two plan geometries gives the building a prow shape, with the point of the prow pointed to Downtown. Wrapping the floor-to-ceiling glass around this angular corner above the lower Bedford Street wing emphasizes this important corner of the building form and allows unparalleled views of the peninsula skyline and Back Cove. 

Sustainability

The residence hall employs myriad strategies to embrace the overarching objective of didactic sustainability. These strategies are highlighted within the building to educate the residents about their choices and the effects of those choices on all aspects of sustainability: environmental stewardship, social justice, and economic equity. One of the most aggressive sustainable features of the building is that it is designed to Passive House (PHIUS) standards. When completed, this building will use very little energy while providing residents with year-round comfort. 

If the Portland Commons seeks to reinforce the structure of the city blocks and weave itself into the immediate context of the campus, the Career and Student Success Center seeks to stand apart, to become that iconic center of student life that welcomes both resident students and commuter students, as well as the public of Portland and beyond. 

The Center’s place on the campus, its geometry, and its architectural language collectively seek to make this building the heart of social life for the campus. Like the residence hall, it is designed to be both didactically sustainable and welcoming, but unlike the residence hall, it has a larger, more civic scale.

The large scale begins with the soaring south-facing portico, forming a “front porch” to the campus. The columns of the portico are diagonal mass timber, making a clear statement that our University embraces sustainable and renewable low-carbon building technologies, while welcoming all in an informal, accessible manner. 

Furthering the goal of being welcoming and promoting accessibility, the porch covers a two-story lobby framed in mass timber. Enclosed entirely in a transparent glass curtainwall, this dramatic lobby is anchored by a monumental stone fireplace and a soaring open stair, inviting all up to the second floor. 

The materials that make up the Center are selected to tie the building to the essence of the State of Maine and the City of Portland:

  • Materials are authentic, natural, and rugged. 
  • The mass timber framing of the public spaces speaks to the forestry industry in the state and the long history of the maritime industry in the Port. 
  • Dark mullions forming multi-paned windows in the large glass expanses draw their visual characteristics from many of the historic wharf and commercial buildings in the City as well. 
  • The solid areas of the angular volume of the Center are clad in corrugated metal and natural stained wood in large planks – both selected for their prevalence in the industrial nature of both the historic and contemporary waterfront. 
  • Dark metal railings, light fixtures, and site furnishings also invoke the nobly utilitarian character of the waterfront and downtown buildings. 

Sustainability

To maximize energy efficiency, the building is sited to take advantage of passive solar heating through the large glass openings facing south in the wintertime when the sun is low, while shading the glass with the portico overhang in the summer. The west, east, and north sides have fewer glazed openings and more solid walls to raise the energy efficiency of the entire building while still allowing daylight to penetrate deep into the interior spaces. The corrugated metal and wood cladding materials are relatively low-carbon in their manufacture and shipping and can be recycled at the end of their long lifecycle.