Site: A 21-acre former rail yard along the St. John River in Van Buren, Maine.

Program: A 41,000-square-foot border-control station comprising three structures, with inspection checkpoints, a warehouse, office space, and support facilities.

Solution: A border-control station isn’t typically a place that anyone is happy to encounter, but the jury responded with uniform approval to this austere checkpoint on a remote site in northeastern Maine—along the Canadian frontier—designed by Julie Snow Architects. “It’s very close to what a typical federal building might look like—a not very good one from the ’60s—and yet it’s very good, through very subtle moves,” juror Lisa Iwamoto said. That sentiment was shared by juror William Rawn. “It doesn’t feel nefarious. It actually feels welcoming,” he said.

Large glass planes and rough steel walls balance the project’s opposed programmatic requirements of surveillance and concealment. Several jurors commented on the “porosity” of the design, both in terms of its materials and its efficient planning. “Driving up to the building, it’s very legible,” said juror Zoë Ryan. Agents can monitor the checkpoints from various locations throughout the site, allowing for reduced staffing.

Outdoor checkpoint zones are covered by a large canopy, necessary given the extreme weather conditions in northern Maine, and protected by an anodized aluminum rainscreen. These spaces—with warm light radiating from behind perforated aluminum panels at night, and during the day, natural light reflecting through skylights lined with bright-dipped aluminum—create liminal effects for those making the passage from one nation to another. Inside the pavilions, the warm tones are carried over to foster a congenial workspace for officers on duty in a harsh climate.

For all its opacity, the jurors were impressed with the station’s aesthetic of restraint and its intentionally camouflaged placement in the landscape. The three barlike pavilions are clad in vertical panels of glass and steel that form a simple repetitive pattern. All surfaces are flush, to add a sense of unity to the façades. In plan, the structures are pragmatically disposed in the shape of a “z.” “It has a really abstract quality,” Iwamoto said.

The facility, budgeted by the U.S. General Services Administration at $30 million and designed to LEED Gold standards, has its own water-filtration system and generates its own heat from a ground-coupled pump. The pavilions are set with great sensitivity between stands of birch, marsh grasses, and a stone-lined swale. “I think the landscape treatments are used to great effect,” juror Steve Dumez said. “What they’ve been able to do is introduce landscape and topography that really breaks up the scale and modulates it so that it’s very clear about where you go. It’s really good.”

Project Credits

Client U.S. General Services Administration
Architecture/Team Lead Julie Snow Architects, Minneapolis— Julie Snow, FAIA (principal); Tyson McElvain, AIA (project manager); Matt Kreilich, AIA (senior project designer); Mary Springer, AIA (senior project architect); Pauv Thouk, Assoc. AIA, Ryan O’Malley, Assoc. AIA, Dan Winden, Assoc. AIA, Tamara Wibowo (designers); Kai Haller (technical consultant, BIM); Robert Feyereisen (model maker); David Huang (architectural renderer)
Civil Engineering/Traffic Jacobs Engineering Group—Rod Emery (principal, civil); Phil Boness (civil project manager); Thomas Morin (civil engineer)
M/E/P Sebesta Blomberg—Bob Resselman (principal, mechanical/electrical); Bob Kilgore (project manager, mechanical/electrical); Jeff Olson, Todd Lagus (mechanical engineers); Ryan Lindal (electrical engineer)
Structural Engineer Meyer Borgman Johnson—Dan Murphy (principal, structural); Mike Retterath (structural engineer)
Landscape Architects Coen + Partners—Stephanie Grotta (principal); Travis Van Liere (project manager); Zachary Bloch (landscape designer)
Cost Estimating Faithful+Gould—John Pidgeon (senior cost estimator); Chad Chapman (cost estimator)
Security Global Defense Solutions—Michael Goldsmith (principal); Dave Danitz (project manager)
Historian Deborah Thompson
Archaeologist Northeast Archaeology Research Center—Ellen R. Cowie
Size 41,000 square feet (including covered canopies)