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U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine

The Calais Land Port of Entry creates a memorable, environmentally friendly national symbol for travellers crossing the US – Canada border. The 26-acre facility comprises a main administration building, a firearms certification range, office and storage space, and several smaller facilities (e.g., kennels). It also incorporates the first new bridge built between the two nations in decades.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-01-Paul-Warchol-759x592 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

“Its innovative outer building skin – an aluminum mesh faceted to resemble common glacial deposits – camouflages the internal workings of the port, improving security for officers. Boulders placed in its courtyard demonstrate a sustainable way of dealing with construction debris.” – GSA Design Award

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-06-Paul-Warchol-759x599 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

The new United States Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine is designed as part of the U.S. General Services Administration’s Design Excellence Program. This program selects America’s best designers and artists to create facilities that ultimately become respected landmarks. The border station building type presents an inherent contradiction, and this project is no exception: the facility is welcoming but secure, open but closed, flexible but permanent.

Surveillance, of course, is a key component of the design, and the aluminum mesh building skin is designed to be transparent from within the facility and translucent / opaque from outside. The subtle bending of the aluminum panels creates dynamic conditions of shade and shadow and reflects hues of the seasonal changes in the sky and landscape color.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-10-Paul-Warchol-759x506 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

In designing the new facility the firm focused on making the most efficient processing of commercial and non-commercial vehicles while providing a safe and secure border. The design concept is a gateway to the United States, a visual “open door” that invites freedom and security to be at peace with each other.

Seen from the highway, the Land Port of Entry’s two low-slung buildings frame a slice of the Maine landscape. Approaching the facility, commercial traffi c veers right, where the checkpoint structure is equipped with warehouses big enough to off -load and inspect truck cargo. The left lanes process noncommercial (car and bus) traffi c. And while most cars that pass under the large steel canopies get quickly waved through border patrol on primary inspection, some are stopped and the drivers brought into interview rooms for additional questioning and a secondary inspection. A secure detention area is available in the event of a worst-case scenario. (And there’s even a fi ring range for offi cer training.) A walkway, tucked out of the public’s view, allows offi cers to pass between the commercial and noncommercial wings.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-11-Paul-Warchol-759x589 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol


The 106,000-square-foot Calais Land Port of Entry services the eighth busiest passage between Canada and the United States. Located on 53 acres in an industrial district south of downtown Calais, Maine, and at the highest point of its site, the facility expresses what Tsien called “a quiet strength” appropriate to border crossing. The monumentality is not overpowering, however. Robert Siegel Architects bifurcated inspection facilities into non-commercial- and commercial-vehicle volumes: The two halves are linked by a glazed passageway concealed from the Canada approach by a grassy berm, so that incoming travelers also see open landscape as they approach the border. Although the state-of-the-art building is significantly larger than its predecessors, its separation into two volumes lessens their visual impact, making them seem closer in scale to older land ports.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-15-Paul-Warchol U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

This siting enhances visual surveillance for officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In addition, the separation of volumes creates two courtyards between the passenger and commercial volumes, on the Canadian and American sides of the glazed passageway. The courtyards provide officers with a secure place for respite, and the overall layout diminishes the distance they have to travel between interior workspaces.

Paying homage to the landscape, the design team placed excavated granite in one courtyard. It also clad the glazed volumes in expanded aluminum mesh stamped with a creased profile. The material reflects changes in weather and season, and the craggy surface makes subtle reference to the glacially deposited granite. Transparent from within and opaque from outside, the metal skin also enhances border officers’ surveillance without compromising their safety.

The design team valued sustainability as highly as security. In addition to the reuse of excavated granite, green strategies include minimal paving, the creation of bioswales that remove 80 percent of total suspended soils in rainfall, daylight penetration whose glare is controlled by the metal skin, and interior air supply via both courtyards rather than from the space above the roadway.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-16-Paul-Warchol-791x1200 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

Design Concept:

The design concept is the result of our process-driven approach to the project. The site is organized to maximize the efficiency and the security of the work performed there. Vehicular circulation is a fundamental determinant to the overall site planning concept. Equally important is the siting and configuration of the border station building elements, communicating welcome and security while maximizing efficiency. The building is sited at the high point of a relatively flat site, assuring line of sight visibility from the Station to the entry and exit points of the property. This creates clear, safe and efficient control of incoming and outgoing traffic. The site is configured around these operational needs to meet exceptional environmental standards including the protection of the local aquifer and the collection and purification of site water run off. Internal circulation is a seamless system of physical connections within the building, extending and completing site circulation at many points. Spatial layout, interior design, the inclusion of balanced natural light and the selection of materials and finishes have all been developed together to achieve a comprehensive and unified interior design, compatible with the exterior, for the new United States Border Station.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-17-Paul-Warchol-798x1200 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

Design Features:

  • The Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine, is split into two main volumes to accommodate traffic across the border: Noncommercial car and bus traffic is processed through the building on the left, while commercial traffic moves through the building on the right. And a lot of vehicles will pass through: When it opened last year, the U.S. General Services Administration projected that the Land Port of Entry in Calais would become the eighth-busiest crossing on the U.S.-Canadian border.
  • Most of the buildings’ surfaces are clad in a custom-designed rainscreen. Expanded-aluminum mesh (with 50 percent porosity) was stamped in a solid-aluminum press (milled with a custom pattern) to give the mesh a crumpled texture that mimics the surface of the granite boulders found on the site. The panels were designed not only as a nod to the landscape, but also to provide important security. Fixed to stucco exterior walls with stainless steel brackets, the panels conceal window openings but still permit a view out for the officers inside. During the day, the sunlight reflecting off the aluminum makes the concealed windows nearly undetectable to drivers passing through, while still admitting daylight. But at dusk, or in shaded areas such as those under the vehicle canopies, the interior lights make the windows visible.
  • The separation of commercial and noncommercial operations into two buildings allowed Siegel to create a secure central courtyard. Hidden from public view by an enclosed bridge at one end and a berm at the other, the landscape design— on which the architects collaborated with Sasaki Associates—is a literal interpretation of the site’s history as a glacial path. Granite boulders found during site excavation were salvaged and arranged here as a nod to the rocky path left behind by a glacier.
  • A continuous run of uncovered vision glass— the only one in the facility— clads the corridors that face onto the central courtyard. Hidden from public view by a berm, the west end of the courtyard is capped by an enclosed walkway so that personnel can securely travel between the buildings.
  • The main lobby of the noncommercial vehicle building at the Land Port of Entry is where bus passengers and others stop to show passports and get processed through border control. One of the few public spaces in the complex, the space features a bamboo and stainless steel documentprocessing desk behind which the border control officers sit. Workstations are concealed by a bamboo wall behind the main desk; a break in the wall allows officers seated at those workstations to have 360-degree visibility. A similar but smaller desk can be found in the public lobby of the commercial traffic building next door.
  • Most vehicles pass through the Land Port of Entry with little incident, but facilities are available for interviewing travelers and performing secondary inspections on vehicles— which can include searching the contents of a car or passenger vehicle in this area in the noncommercial traffic building, or unpacking and cataloging the cargo of a commercial vehicle in a separate area on the site.
  • The facility is on track for LEED Gold certification, and many of its sustainable features come from attention to the landscape. It sits on top of an aquifer that feeds the nearby town, so bioswales were used to naturally fi lter runoff back into the water table. Additionally, the design team took care to reduce the amount of asphalt used across the site.
U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-23-Paul-Warchol-800x1200 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol


The Land Port of Entry is expected to receive a LEED Gold rating and features a variety of sustainable features. These include lined bioswales that naturally collect and filter road water runoff and protect the nearby city aquifer; a tempered microclimate created by the building massing within the site; and low-maintenance native plant species used throughout the landscape. Additionally, clean air is drawn from the protected courtyard, while low-VOC and/or recycled finish materials were used throughout the project. Daylighting, efficient fixtures and the metal screen allow for reduced electrical use, while dualflush toilets and waterless urinals aid in reducing water consumption.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-31-Paul-Warchol-759x560 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

“It is our hope that this building will represent the aspirations of our time and that history will remember us as the generation who, while confronted by terrorism and violence at home and abroad, chose to make buildings that embody the enduring values of our democracy,” said Robert Siegel, principal of Robert Siegel Architects. “The border station building type represents an inherent contradiction, and this project is no exception; the facility is welcoming but secure, open but closed, flexible but permanent.”

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-25-Paul-Warchol-759x342 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

Robert Siegel Architects:

Statement of Intent:

This building represents the aspirations of our time. We hope that history will remember us as the generation who, while confronted by terrorism and violence at home and abroad, chose to create architecture to embody the enduring values of our democracy.

The design is guided by three objectives:

  • Create a powerful symbol of the United States
  • Develop a new building type that functions perfectly
  • Become a case study of the ritual of crossing a threshold


This is an important new gateway to the United States. The dramatic landscape and space between the two building masses proudly communicates the openness of America. The building is placed on axis, at the high point of the site, to create an appropriate monumentality and to embody the spirit of the United States as welcoming and secure.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-03-Paul-Warchol-759x878 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

New Building Type:

This project develops a new border station type where an open space, not a road, provides the visual connection between arrival and passage. The organization of this building creates a safe and quiet internal courtyard dedicated to employee use while providing direct access for officers to respond to emergency situations.


Building forms are inspired by the glacially eroded granite landscape of Maine. The diaphanous metal skin has the solidity of a rock while simultaneously incorporating the changing colors of the landscape and sky. The ritual of passage involves moving across this dynamic threshold made between soft landscape and crisp building edges, between light and darkness, between welcoming and secure spaces.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-20-Paul-Warchol-759x507 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

Project Description:

The site for the new 100,000sf U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine is 50 acres of rocky, sloping land in an industrial district. The aquifer that provides all of the town’s drinking water is immediately below. Access is via two new bridges spanning the St. Croix River and a railroad spur line. Located in “Down East” Maine, Calais is the gateway town for the 8th busiest international crossing between the United States and Canada. This project is an example of collaboration across federal, state and local agencies on both sides of the border. It is part of a bi-national infrastructure effort that includes new highways and the first new international bridge built between the United States and Canada in decades.

The site and building are designed to quickly process vehicles and people while providing a safe and secure border. Inspection facilities are separated into two building masses placed centrally at the high point of the site. This placement provides continuous visual surveillance of vehicle movement while creating a secure courtyard for officers. Surveillance is an essential component of the building’s design: the facility is wrapped with a screen of expanded aluminum mesh that is transparent from within and opaque from outside, enhancing security and surveillance capabilities. Commercial and non-commercial operations share the concealed courtyard, which provides quiet respite from continuous vehicle traffic, is a source for clean intake air, provides staff security, and frames a vista of the gently rolling hills beyond the site.

The project integrates architecture and engineering at both a conceptual and detail level. On track for LEED Gold, the design integrates strategic building and site planning with innovative construction materials, efficient equipment selection and use of active and passive systems.

Siegel’s fascination with the boulders’ textures also infl uenced the design of the metal rainscreen that wraps the two buildings. Each 10-foot-tall and 40-inch-wide expanded-aluminum mesh panel is patterned to look like granite. “We created a drawing that has the same gestalt as a rock,” Siegel explains. “Then we made a 3D model of it, creating valleys and ridges.” More than decorative, the metal skin creates a layer of security. When sunlight hits the façade, the mesh appears solid, but ample daylight reaches the interior. The aluminum panels conceal windows cut into the basic stucco walls beneath so that offi cers on the inside of the buildings can survey all activity, but the public cannot see in. Like many aspects of the Land Port of Entry’s design, the metal screen reveals the tension between the buildings’ two objectives: to be welcoming and to be safe.

U.S.-Land-Port-of-Entry-in-Calais-Maine-By-Robert-Siegel-Architects-28-Paul-Warchol-759x331 U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects

© Paul Warchol

Project Data:

Project name: United States Land Port of Entry
Location: 180 International Avenue, Calais, ME 04619, United States
Coordinates: 45.161016, -67.298208
Type: Terminal / Station
Site Area: 50 acres (20 Hectares)
Project Area: 100,000 sq. ft (9,290 sqm)

  • Enclosed Area: 74,002 sq.ft (6,875 sqm)
  • Canopy Area: 26,244 sq.ft (2,440 sqm)

Project Year: 2008-2009
Status: Built
Cost: $53,000,000
Completion Year: November 2009


  • 2013 – Architizer A+ Awards – Popular Choice Award – Category: Institutional – Government & Municipal Buildings, Police & Fire Stations – Shortlisted
  • 2012 – Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award – The best new global design
  • 2011 – The National Institute of Building Sciences Sustainable Buildings Industry Council (SBIC) Awards – Beyond Green™ High Performance Building Awards – Honor Award – First Place for New Construction
  • 2011 – United States General Services Administration (GSA) Awards – GSA Project Management Award
  • 2010 – United States General Services Administration (GSA) Awards – GSA/PBS Citation – Excellence in Federal Design
  • 2010 – United States General Services Administration (GSA) Awards – GSA Design Excellence Award
  • 2009 – LEED Awards – LEED Gold Certification (Landscape)
  • 2008 – Transportation Planning Excellence Award
  • 2007 – The American Institute of Architect (AIA Awards) – AIA New York State Award – Project Merit Award Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: United States General Services Administration
Architects: Robert Siegel Architects – 37 West 37th Street New York, NY 10018, United States
Principal, Lead Designer: Robert Siegel
Project Managers: Eduardo Ramos, Richard Tobias
Project Team: Robert Siegel, Richard Tobias, Eduardo Ramos, Brad Burns, Holly Williams, Justin Huang, Julien Leyssene, Kelsey Yates, Fatmir Hodzic, Wayne Walker
Mechanical/Electrical/Structural/Civil Engineer/Lighting Designer: Arup
Construction Manager: Coast and Harbor
General Contractor: J&J Contractors
Landscape Architect: Sasaki Associates
Façade Consultant: Front
Building Envelope Consultants: Front
Cost Estimating: Pete & Companry
Code & ADA: Rolf Jensen & Associates
Text Description: © Courtesy of Robert Siegel Architects, Arup, architectmagazine, amcham, General Services Administration, metalarchitecture
Images: © Robert Siegel Architects, Paul Warchol

Materials & Suplier:

Acoustics: Sonex sonexfoam.com
Adhesives, Coatings, and Sealants: DowCorning dowcorning.com, Tremco tremcosealants.com, Roberts Consolidated Industries robertsconsolidated.com
Ceilings: CertainTeed Corp. certainteed.com, Armstrong armstrong.com, Globalnex globalnex.com
Concrete: Lafarge North America lafargenorthamerica.com
Exterior Wall Systems: Sto Corp. stocorp.com, MG McGrath mcgrathshtmtl.com
Flooring: Sheldon Slate Products Co. sheldonslate.com
Furniture: Knoll knoll.com
Glass: Oldcastle Glass oldcastleglass.com, Solar Seal Co. solarseal.com
HVAC: RTH Mechanical Contractors, York by Johnson Controls york.com
Insulation: Knauf Insulation knaufusa.com, Roxul roxul.com, Isolatek International isolatek.com
Lighting Controls: Lutron Electronics lutron.com
Lighting: Bega bega-us.com, Cooper Lighting cooperlighting.com, Elliptipar elliptipar.com, Zumtobel zumtobel.us, Luminaire Lighting Corp. luminairelighting.com, RLE Industries rleindustries.com, Guth guth.com
Masonry and Stone: J & B Granite Works jbgranite.com
Metal: Cianbro cianbro.com
Paints: Sherwin Williams sherwin-williams.com
Plumbing and Water System: RTH Mechanical Contractors, Eljer eljer.com, Chicago Faucets chicagofaucets.com
Roofing: Carlisle SynTec carlisle-syntec.com
Site Products: ACF Environmental acfenvironmental.com, GSE Lining Technology gseworld.com
Walls: Panelfold panelfold.com


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U.S. Land Port of Entry in Calais, Maine / Robert Siegel Architects
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