Between Wilderness and Civilization: Monson, Maine

The town of Monson is the gateway to the Hundred-Mile Wilderness, the northernmost hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail which stretches from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

Over one hundred and fifty years ago, Henry David Thoreau was introduced to this forest by a Penobscot guide and chronicled his journey in his collection of essays, The Maine Woods. At the end of his journey when he asked his guide if he was glad to have returned home, the guide replied, “It makes no difference where I am.” To him, he belonged to the land, and the land did not belong to anyone – a fundamental mindset for living in balance with nature.

Monson is located in Central Maine on occupied Penobscot lands in Piscataquis County, the poorest county in the state and all of New England. The region suffered major job loss when paper milling and other industries closed, but slate quarrying and furniture making continue to utilize the nearby forests’ abundant natural resources. Recently, the Libra Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Portland, restored the town’s building stock to establish Monson Arts, an artists’ and writers’ residency program, in an effort to reverse its trend of depopulation and poverty.

Maine is nearly 90 percent covered by forest and has the longest coastline of any Atlantic state. It has an extensive and self-sustaining network of aquifers and a progressive alternative energy agenda which includes geothermal, solar, biomass, and offshore wind turbines. Maine is also the origin point of the organic farming movement.

The studio will speculate on innovative opportunities for the future of Maine’s economy and maker culture, which needs to balance progress with respect for its ecology. Monson is looking to develop a new incubator / innovation program on an abandoned 72 acres of farmland near town. Each student will propose a unique program for this facility based on their interests and develop a design that embraces Maine’s culture, ethos, and ecology. In a place like Monson, wilderness and civilization must be put in dialogue through the program, expression, materiality, and function of its architecture.