Winton Scott, a prolific Portland architect whose firm designed numerous affordable housing projects, public buildings, private homes, and the renovation and expansion of Merrill Auditorium, died June 1, leaving a powerful legacy of modern architecture across the Maine landscape.

Scott, who was 86, came to Maine and established his firm in 1975, bringing with him an already remarkable portfolio as a disciple of the modernist architecture movement who was influenced by the clean-lined European aesthetic and the latest building materials.

Winton Scott in 2020 at his home in Freeport, which he designed. Photo by Emily Scott

Through the years, he mentored many architects now working in Portland, including Stephen Weatherhead, one of four principals who acquired Winton Scott Architects in 2020 and retained the firm’s name. Weatherhead worked with Scott for 30 years.

“Winton was one of the forefathers, back in the day, when Portland didn’t have so many architectural firms,” Weatherhead said. “Many of the architects in Portland today have done a stint in his office.”

Weatherhead described Scott as driven and principled and never wanting to retire until practicality pushed him to turn over the reins when he was 82.

“He was an architect’s architect,” Weatherhead said. “It wasn’t just a job, it was a passion. I was always impressed with how he explored design ideas for a project very quickly at the beginning and kept with it until it worked.”

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Scott, who lived in Freeport, also had a deep respect for Maine’s historic brick and clapboard buildings, designing new structures that would sit well beside their older cousins, and drafting renovations that incorporated modern features in a comfortable way.

Weatherhead recalled that Merrill Auditorium, which is part of Portland City Hall, was destined to be gutted before Scott’s firm designed its 1994 renovation and expansion. The project retained original interior features while vastly improving sight lines and acoustics and expanding the backstage area to support major performances.

He met his second wife, Laura McDill, while working on a project involving Greater Portland Landmarks, a preservation organization where she had formerly served as board president. The two were together for 35 years.

“Winton was sensitive to every aspect of the environment when siting or renovating buildings or considering in-fill design in historic areas,” said McDill. “He captured elegance and simplicity that delighted him. His buildings are timeless.”

EARLY CAREER SUCCESS

Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Scott was the only child of Mary Sue and Winton Scott Sr. He earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Texas at Austin in 1960, then served as a lieutenant in the Navy and Naval Reserve through 1967.

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He married his first wife, Catherine “Kitty” Barnes, who now lives in Cape Elizabeth, in 1961 and started a family while stationed at Naval Air Station Olathe in Kansas.

Winton Scott’s firm helped save Merrill Auditorium in Portland from being gutted. The group designed a renovation and expansion in 1994 that kept original features but improved sight lines and acoustics and expanded the backstage area. Photo courtesy of Winton Scott Architects

In 1963, Scott landed a job in New Haven, Connecticut, working for a firm founded by acclaimed Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and known for designing the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. He was job captain in designing the Ford Foundation Building in New York City, a project noted for redefining the concept of a modern office building.

From 1966 to 1970, Scott was senior project architect and designer for renowned 20th-century architect Louis Kahn in Philadelphia. While there, he worked on some of Kahn’s best-known projects, including the National Capital Complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

In 1970, he was lead architect for the Phillips Exeter Academy Library in Exeter, New Hampshire. The project brought Scott to New England to oversee construction and won accolades as an outstanding example of American modern architecture, Weatherhead said.

The library was featured on a U.S. postage stamp and in 1997 won the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-five Year Award, which recognized it as a building that set an architectural design standard of excellence for 25-35 years.

Scott also taught architecture at Yale University as a visiting professor in 1968, and at Rice University in Houston, Texas, as an assistant professor from 1970-1974.

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AN ARCHITECTURAL LEGACY

Scott’s work in Maine includes the West Bath District Courthouse, Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Pearl Place affordable housing in Portland, Westbrook Regional Vocational Center, public libraries in Freeport and Damariscotta, the Ocean Gateway marine terminal in Portland and many private homes, including his own in Cape Elizabeth and Freeport.

The Ocean Gateway terminal on Portland’s waterfront was designed by Winton Scott’s firm. It is meant to resemble the prow of a ship. Photo courtesy of Winton Scott Architects

Nancy Barba, a principal at Barba + Wheelock Architects in Portland, is one of many architects who worked with Scott through the years, developing a deep professional respect and longtime friendship.

She worked at Winton Scott Architects for a short time in 1982, when the firm had two phones – one on Scott’s desk and one on the wall – with no cellphones or computers. Office chatter was discouraged, but Scott appreciated Barba as an extrovert.

“There’s a lot of reverence of Winton among architects in Maine,” Barba said. “There was this aura about him because he had trained with great architects and he did really great work.”

Scott’s projects were featured in many publications, including Architecture Magazine, Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Magazine, Down East Magazine and Portland Magazine.

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AVID TRAVELER, OUTDOORSMAN

Scott was an avid outdoorsman, passing on his love for hiking, cross-country skiing and sailing to his children, David Scott, who lives in Spokane, Washington, and Emily Scott and Elizabeth Scott, who live in South Portland.

Winton Scott’s firm designed this three-story, climate controlled building for the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath in the late 1980s. Scott had lived in Maine for over 10 years at the time, having moved to the state and started his firm in 1975. Photo courtesy of Winton Scott Architects

“He was funny, silly and always up for an adventure,” Emily Scott said. “He loved music from all over the world, including reggae, African, blues or rock. And he loved to travel.”

Scott traveled widely throughout his life with a desire to learn more about architecture and other cultures, including trips to France, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, India, Finland, Portugal, Mexico, Morocco, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Jamaica and South Africa.

He had a deep respect for diversity and curiosity about other people, which he also passed on to his children, Emily Scott said. A grandfather of three, he remained active until he was sidelined by a series of falls. And he kept a song in his heart to the very end.

“He was an affectionate, cool, funny man,” Emily Scott said. “I will miss him terribly.”

The family plans to organize a public celebration of life at a later date.


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