Three generations of the Colonel John Black family owned and lived at the estate they called Woodlawn, with its Benjamin Asher inspired house built in 1827 and surrounded by landscaped gardens, barns, and 180 acres of fields and woods. The original house, now a historic house museum, contains the family’s original furnishings, art, and artifacts as well as an extensive archive documenting John Black’s role in the development of Maine’s lumber industry. The estate was bequeathed in 1928 to the Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations who opened it to the public in 1929. The property is listed on the National Historic Register. In 2013 the Trustees invited Oudens Ello Architecture to participate in a design competition to develop a master plan vision for the Woodlawn’s expansion and re-establishment of the estate’s carriage barn structure as a visitor’s center to provide much needed space for events, exhibition, archival storage and research, and organizational support.
OEA approached the competition with a clear understanding of the delicate nature of this undertaking and the critical importance of striking the proper balance between delivering a visible and dynamic new front entrance for the institution, and at the same time respecting and preserving the Black House as the primary focus and enduring image for visitors. OEA’s competition entry presented three different options, each focusing on different considerations relating to the site, to history, and to future use, and each making different propositions about how challenging issues, such as building entry, organization of program, and handling of parking, might begin to be considered. Those options allow for the flexibility to accommodate a variety of different events serving as wide an audience as possible, respond to seasonal changes in visitor use patterns, enhance and clarify a visitor experience that is comprised of multiple buildings, and create strong relationships between indoor program space and the surrounding landscape.