Gulf of Maine Research Institute

LabVenture Environmental Design

View of Labventure space from one of the terraces

Located at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI) in Portland, Maine, LabVenture is an interactive learning environment that exposes Maine’s fifth and sixth graders to science and the fundamentals of data literacy. Upswell — along with its partners Open Studio Collective, Lassel Architects, and Art Guild — was tasked with leading the environmental and physical design of the space, as part of a broader effort to reimagine the program.

The new physical expression of the space is best described as equal parts science lab, museum exhibit, and interactive cinema. It supports an experience stategy, narrative, and design that, over the course of two hours, orchestrates the work of over 50 students across self-driven activities. It also had to draw from elements of the GMRI brand, evolving its material instantiation without departing from its fundamental qualities.

Ten custom-design, cantilevered research tables serve as the focal points for student group work. These tables are artfully arranged inside the space to facilitate the user flow in the space, especially during moments of entry, departure, and at key points in the experience, movement between the tables and kiosks located around a circular aquarium. The entire space rests on curvi-linear platforms that allow students and other users to experience subtle shifts in elevation, ensuring direct sightlines to anyone in the room.

Other interior features round out the story and functionality of the space. A wall-size topographic map provides contextual meaning, while a sweeping panorama screen with a unique aspect ratio (32:9) serves as the vehicle for film projections. An unconventional donor wall located at the entrance to the space honors significant donors in the form of acrylic discs showcasing the beautiful forms of plankton.

The team reenvisioned the space through the lens of inclusive design. As a result, the entire space and interior elements is wheelchair accessible. Ramps, for example, were incorporated into the space at strategic points, while all the tables were fabricated with legally-mandated reach and height considerations.

An educational environment that combines elements of science lab, museum exhibit, and interactive cinema.

Sideview of the cantilevered research table.
Close-up of contoured map wall
Detail view of donor wall discs.
View of the projection panorama from the back of the room
Close-up of the peripherals
Architectural rendering of the LabVenture space.
Studies of different table options
Plan showing arrangement of tables and spatial flow
Early Concept Sketch of the Space


  • Cohen Center for Interactive Learning


  • Portland, Maine


  • 2018


  • Art Guild
    • Fabrication
  • Cavanaugh Tocci
    • Accoustical Engineering
  • Control Concepts Inc.
    • Crestron Programming
  • Lassel Architects
    • Architect of Record
  • Open Studio Collective
    • Design Architect
  • Ouellet Construction
    • General Contractor