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At the heart of the new Bonnet Springs Park, a colorful home for the Florida Children’s Museum emerges from the site’s interconnecting topography

Florida Children’s Museum and Bonnet Springs Park Café

Windsong Park, Inc.
Lakeland, FL
48,270 SF
Matthew Arielly; Jeremy Bittermann
Interior Design
Additional Services
Community Engagement
Landscape Architecture
Completed October 2022

The previous Exploration V Children’s Museum in Downtown Lakeland has reopened as the Florida Children’s Museum in the new purpose-built facility at Bonnet Springs Park

Nestled between two hills and hugging the park’s central event lawn, the new museum and Bonnet Springs Park Café blur the lines between landscape and architecture by integrating to the site’s natural topography. Home to Bonnet Spring’s educational and cultural development, the museum offers four interactive exhibits for children of all ages, as well as a playful outdoor experience, classrooms for programming, and an immersive Black Box theater. The museum’s mission of “Curating the World for All Children to Explore” inspired a design that draws on neurodiversity research with pops of color serving as “portals” into the exhibits, contrasted by calmer interstitial spaces.

Integration of Landscape and Architecture

Referred to as the “Bridge Building” in honor of its visual continuity, the Florida Children’s Museum and Bonnet Springs Park Café span the entire valley between two hills. The building’s façade mimics the curves in the topography, creating a seamless connection between the built and the natural. 

The museum’s two-story massing integrates with the south hill, and the one-story café with a rooftop bar is embedded in the north hill. Visitors use the ramp or stairs to access the plaza between the two attractions, where entry to both is provided. The building is faceted in plan, curving around the park’s central lawn and circulator, a curving path that navigates the entire Bonnet Springs Park.

The Net-Zero-ready building offers a balance of clean white stucco, colorful metal panels, and a southern yellow pine soffit. The stucco, a nod to the Florida Modern movement, serves as a blank canvas for rotating murals on the building’s east façade facing the parking lot. A rainbow of colorful metal panels is interspersed with tall thin windows on the west façade, facing the event lawn. A metal ribbon sweeps around the building, binding the café and museum together as it stretches over an open plaza between the two. V and Y-shaped columns dance playfully around the building holding up the ribbon, while colorful sunshades protect the second-floor glazing from the Florida sun. The building’s state-of-the-art mechanical and structural systems have been designed to support the installation of solar panels for a Net-Zero carbon impact.

A Vibrant New Home for Childhood Exploration

Upon entering the museum, visitors venture into a double-height lobby where the museum’s dragon mascot, Dot, greets them from overhead. Beyond this, visitors will encounter the colorful reception center, the beehive-patterned donor wall, and a bright red statement staircase, all featuring color palettes inspired by neurodiversity research and inclusive design. Colorful “portals” mark significant entryways and points of interest, while more neutral tones allow for a calmer experience in-between, a design that has taken into account the distinct heights and viewpoints of both children and adults.

Sasaki collaborated with designers at Gyroscope to create four immersive exhibits for children of all ages. Design Park, which is visible from the lobby through the donor wall, is a STEM exhibit where children can engineer and test their own floating vehicles. Watermelon Seeds is a wonderland of fruit where kids can transform into bugs to pollinate watermelons, strawberries, and more. Upstairs, kids can role-play their futures in a city built just for them at City Play, or explore their creativity through music and animations in TBD.

The Black Box theater provides a flexible space for museum performances, exhibitions, and events. A garage door connecting the black box to the atrium can be opened to create a larger event space, while a retractable wall in the theater can allow the space to be used for two events at once. The dark gray theater is equipped with acoustic walls and a geometric acoustic ceiling. 

The Florida Children’s Museum was completed in October of 2022, following the opening of the newly transformed Bonnet Springs Park, a 168-acre site just 15 minutes from downtown Lakeland. The museum is one of four new cultural buildings found the entire park along with a new Welcome Center, Event Center, and Nature Center, a product of a robust community engagement process that sought to integrate the culture and ecology of central Florida. Since then, the museum has proven to be a significant cultural asset for the region, creating Central Florida’s place to play and inspiring a newfound sense of community and worth for the residents of Lakeland.

For more information contact Fiske Crowell.

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