Designed for Exploration

L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Center
Freeport, ME

SMMA and L.L.Bean have maintained a strong relationship, dating back four decades spanning a variety of project types, from corporate offices to retail locations. L.L.Bean desired a permanent home that was welcoming for visitors and gave its staff the tools necessary for them to create great experiences for participants.

The Outdoor Discovery Center (ODC) provided for a unique experience for the project team. Situated on Maine’s coastline southeast of Freeport, the Center is intended to support visitors and staff for L.L. Bean’s day-long kayaking and cycling expeditions, with room to expand to accommodate other outdoor activities. The design blends classical architecture with nature to provide a memorable experience for visitors. 


It Starts with an Idea

The project was afforded through a design competition. SMMA was afforded the opportunity to meet with staff and tour the existing property, which allowed the team to experience firsthand how staff and visitors use the various parts of the Center. Developing the first diagrams required figuring out how to accommodate interactions among staff and guests within a small footprint. 

Facing Seaboard

The exterior is expressed as two crossing gables and is clad in durable shingles, Douglas fir beams, and joists. Designed for LEED-NC certification, the building is oriented on an east/west axis, giving the façade a wide frontage on the water and provides exposure on the southside for optimal 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. As well, all windows are operable, allowing both customers and staff to adjust interior temperature as needed.  The design of the main level is intended to leverage ocean views and create a forum area that separates the customer space consisting of two classrooms, from staff space.


In this short video, 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 Center achieved LEED certification. The design concept was to design a complex that rises organically from the site and avoids disturbing the sensitive environment surrounding it. The design was guided by the mantra, “Leave no trace.” The SMMA team held a charrette with L.L.Bean staff to explore what this principle meant in the context of a building. The solution that emerged was a Net Zero-ready facility that optimized performance through passive design.

A Touch of New England

The inspiration for the materials palette was drawn from the ODC’s coastal New England site, making use of shingles, wood beam framing, and stone. As well, black steel cable trussing adds a modernist intervention to the mix. On the westside, the building appears in section with its structure exposed, forming an overhang to protect visitors from the elements as they retrieve and store objects in the basement.

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.