written by:
September 2, 2009

Portland has long been a cultural outpost in New England, a hotspot for artists and longshoreman alike who crave the sophistication of the big city (65,000 people) while still retaining a distinctly Maine character.

A view of the Promenade, looking out to Cascoe Bay.
A view of the Promenade, looking out to Cascoe Bay.
Courtesy of 
Rocketdog 2000
1 / 5
Facade of the Charles Shipman Payson Building at the Portland Museum of Art.
Facade of the Charles Shipman Payson Building at the Portland Museum of Art.
2 / 5
The facade of Rogues Gallery.
The facade of Rogues Gallery.
5 / 5
A view of the Promenade, looking out to Cascoe Bay.
A view of the Promenade, looking out to Cascoe Bay.

I met Portland, Maine-based architect Christopher Campbell on a snowy February morning on the ferry leaving Rockland, Maine, heading toward North Haven Island. He designed a house out there that will show up in the July/August issue of Dwell, but over the course of the day we got to talking about Portland. I’ve only spent a little time there, wandering Exchange Street in the summertime, taking the ferry out to Little Diamond Island to see friends, and generally wandering the cobblestone streets of the old port before hunkering down at Monument Square for a cup of coffee or a lazy browse through Longfellows Books.

I got Campbell to answer a few questions about the city he’s called home for the last ten years, ranging from the state of modern design in the city, to its sustainable future, to where to go for the best bite in town.


Modern architecture isn't exactly Portland's strong point. The Portland Museum of Art by Henry N. Cobb’s Portland Art Museum, rendered in the lovely red brick that makes much of the city so beautiful, is the only example I can think of off the top of my head. Is modern design making any inroads I'm missing? I did notice a newish modern glass building on Fore Street as I drove past. What’s that?

Modern design is very quietly sneaking into Portland. After a spate of disastrous mid-century planning and design debacles, the city dug in and resisted new work and the modern aesthetic in general. But new things are being built now, and the planning board and the various design review groups all know that new design can work quite successfully within our historic city framework. It's lovely to see these nuggets of modern peeking out from rooftop additions and squeezed between historic buildings - it adds a vibrancy and a level of excitement that a strictly "Historic" town doesn't have. The building you mentioned is a lovely project which houses Utopia Gallery on the first floor - I believe it is run by the design group Utopia Designs.

Portland seems to have a thriving arts scene, in no small part thanks to you, Space Gallery and One Longfellow. How would you describe the arts climate in Portland?

I think the arts climate is quite strong for a city of our size - there is, of course, always room for improvement, but in general from both a grass roots street level view and also from a higher-end gallery-and-museums point of view there is a feeling of some real positive movement. The art scene and vibe on the street is great - we do an artwalk every first Friday of the month. Design Sponge did a roundup of our art/design scene as well. With the schools in town, particularly the Maine College of Art that is smack in the middle of our downtown, we have a steady influx of young artists into our community. That combined with a healthy tier of professionals and entrepreneurs doing design work really does keep it pretty lively. My involvement with and connection to the community has been through the Non-Profit SPACE Gallery, studio building with 35 artist studios, and also through the music venue One Longfellow Square being involved with these projects has really been a great way to connect to a community and has kept me interested and engaged in the things that are happening in this town outside of the strictly architectural world.

You started a Pecha Kucha night in Portland. Tell me about how you got it started, what sorts present and attend, and your first meeting.

Well, actually SPACE Gallery hosted the first meeting, technically it is now a fully independent and very successful group that makes Pecha Kucha work so well here in Maine. Nights like those are exactly the kind of thing that we love to see happen in our town. The first one was in October of 2007 and the founder Mark Dytham was the official master of ceremonies that night as he had been brought to Portland by an architecture and design group lecture series that we have here in town. The presenters have been a wide ranging group of design people - photographers, painters, designers, architects, planners, students and professionals. It's a fantastic opportunity to get a real snapshot of the community and all the different directions that people are going in.

Where do you go to eat in Portland? Fore Street gets a lot of attention, but what about newer spots like the Blue Spoon? For breakfast I always get dragged to the Good Egg, which is pretty good, I have to say.

The restaurants here are really terrific. Fore Street always gets a great deal of attention but there are a great number of excellent restaurants all through town. Places like Evangeline, Hugo's, Miyake, Bresca, (and on and on) are all top notch. One of the best guides for food in town is Portland Food Map. The places they call out with four and five stars are really must-eat stops if you're planning a visit. There are great little places like the Blue Spoon popping up all the time, and there is a strong and passionate foodie community here ready to swoop in and try it all out.

In addition to tony, beautiful brick houses and views of the Portland jetport (Note to visitors: in Portland, for a reason I cannot divine, the airport is called the “jetport”) the West End seems like it has some cool shops. Where do you satisfy your craving for modern design or clothes in Portland beyond Rogue's Gallery?

These are just some of our homegrown companies that have made it easy to get a little design fix here in town:
Addo Novo: Furniture
Wary Meyers: Decorative Arts and Interior Design
Rogues (above): Clothing
Brook There: Organic Clothing
Angela Adams: Housewares
Eli Phant: Housewares and Apparel
Ferdinand: Handicrafts, Vintage and Apparel
Green Design Furniture: Sustainable Furniture

What's your favorite building in Portland? Any style.

My favorite building is Fort Gorges (pronounced "gorgeous"). It is a small, deserted, never-used fort built in the 1860s out in the middle of our harbor, and every day with the tides it seems to sink into the ocean and rise out again. The roof is piled high with earthen ramparts and in spring the plants and trees growing on top give the fort a crazy surprised look with its crown of green sprouting wildly - our first green roof! Access is by small boat only, as you need to be able to beach the craft, and the interior is a beautiful, peaceful ruin of massive granite blocks and arches.

Portland is a small city, maybe 65,000 people, and part of its colonial New England charm is how walkable it is. How would you like to see the city evolve in a more sustainable way?

Many of the things I'd like to see are being looked at by the city right now, in fact—the city is currently in the process of reviewing its transportation policies, in particular our public transportation, to increase usability and efficiency. I am a big fan of pedestrian and bike-friendly planning moves and am very excited to see that we have a car share program as well. There are a number of progressive policy makers in town; for instance, we just passed a zoning change that allows for small-scale chicken-and-egg operations in our residential neighborhoods. What I would like to see would be a more aggressive stance on the part of the city towards taking advantage of the solar and especially wind power opportunities that we have in our harbor. The lighting in my home is all solar-powered and it would be great if our city encouraged more of this and on a larger scale.

Maine has a small population, just about one million, but that number swells in the summer. Does Portland expand and contract like other parts of the state in the summer months? There must be a strong sense of community as a result--Mainers and summer folk.

I think of our wintertime population as the "core" of the city - the whole place takes on a quieter and more intimate quality. You recognize the bundled-up people that you pass on the streets as your true neighbors. When the weather warms, and the summer population comes back to Maine, then the whole place just blooms with new faces. We complain about the tourists sometimes, but actually I kind of love the energy of it, with massive ships pulling into the harbor, and people speaking all different languages poking around and wandering the streets that only a few short months ago felt like our private little hamlet.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016