L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Center

L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Center
Freeport, ME

SMMA’s design for the Outdoor Discovery Center is a rich mixture of architecture and nature to provide a memorable experience to the ODC visitor. The center, located overlooking Brickyard Cove just southeast of Freeport on the Maine coast, is intended initially to serve L.L. Bean’s day-long kayaking and cycling expeditions, with room to expand eventually to include other outdoor activities.

SMMA is proud of its past collaborations with L.L. Bean dating back four decades. But first and foremost, this center is “outdoor, not a store.” Nor is it a corporate office building. Designed with exemplary sustainability elements, the ODC will be more than LEED Certified; it is conceived as a complex that rises organically from its site and brings L. L. Bean customers closer to the wonders of nature on the Maine coast. The visitors’ experience as they drive down the access road toward Little Flying Point is all important. The site comes into view only gradually; once at the parking lot, the visitors can see the water, smell the salt air and begin to anticipate the day’s adventure.

The building is oriented on an east/west axis, giving the main façade a wide frontage on the water and a southern exposure for optimal use of sunlight. Nested gently into a hillside, it takes advantage of this configuration by providing a basement level for storage, locker rooms, a bicycle workshop and mechanical equipment. On the main 5,000 sf level, it’s all about the view and segregating the customer space, consisting largely of two classrooms, from staff space with a “great room” separating the two.

The materials palette is drawn from the coastal New England site—shingles, wood beam framing and stone surrounding the main entry wing. Black steel cable trussing provides a modernist intervention into the mix. At the western extreme of the building, the building appears in section, its structure exposed, while forming an overhang to protect visitors from the elements as they retrieve and store objects in the basement.


It Starts With an Idea

The project began as an invited competition. SMMA was afforded the opportunity to meet with the staff and tour the existing property, which allowed us to experience firsthand how staff and visitors use the various parts of the site. In developing our first diagrams, we knew we had to figure out how to mesh the interactions among staff and guests within a small footprint.

Making Do

The site was previously used as a campground. Since acquiring the 29-acre property, L.L.Bean had been running kayaking and cycling programs out of a collection of leftover structures at the site. A rented double-wide trailer served as a staff office, classroom space, kitchen, and winter storage. L.L.Bean desired a perminent home that was welcoming for visitors and gave its staff the tools necessary for them to create great experiences for participants.

In this short movie, architect Mark Spaulding and designer Michael Pardek discuss the inspiration for L.L.Bean's first Outdoor Discovery School.

Active Space, Passive Design

Designed with exemplary sustainability elements, the school is more than LEED-certified—it is conceived as a complex that rises organically from its site and treads lightly on the sensitive environmental context in which it exists. SMMA worked collaboratively with L.L.Bean staff to develop a vision for the facility.

The sustainable design was informed by the mantra: “Leave no trace.” The SMMA team held a charrette to explore what this principle meant in the context of a building design. The solution that emerged was a net-zero-energy-ready facility that optimized performance through passive design.

Making Connections

The exterior is expressed as two crossing gables and is clad in durable shingles and Douglas fir beams and joists. Designed for LEED certification, the building is oriented on an east-west axis, giving the main façade a wide frontage on the water and a southern exposure for optimal use of sunlight and ocean breezes. All windows are operable, allowing both customers and staff to adjust interior temperature as needed.

For more than 40 years, SMMA has partnered with L.L.Bean working to create spaces that inspire workers, excite customers, and align with the mission and values that so deeply resonate throughout the brand—100% satisfaction, highest quality, and tremendous value.