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Overlooking Lake Bonnet and shrouded by live oaks rests a brand new destination to explore Florida’s ecology and be immersed in the landscape

The Nature Center at Bonnet Springs Park

Bonnet Springs Park, Inc.
Lakeland, FL
6,545 GSF
Jeremy Bittermann, Matthew Arielly
Additional Services
Landscape Architecture
Completed 2022

In the heart of Bonnet Springs Park, the Nature Center is a two-part, wood-framed and cypress-clad structure tied into a system of wetland boardwalks perched over the remediated lagoon.

The Nature Center consists of two timber structures set lightly on the site and framed by arching branches of live oak trees– two small buildings were sited to coexist with the existing oak trees, rather than one larger, invasive structure. Ipe boardwalks raised over the landscape tie the structures into a network of scenic paths that lead park visitors on a journey through the tree canopy and toward the water.

Starting on the boardwalk path, visitors will first encounter the exhibition center, featuring an ecological gallery and classroom offering alternating views into both Bonnet Springs Park and the lagoon. Continuing on the boardwalk toward the lagoon, guests will find the boathouse, which houses a screened and shaded pergola with picnic tables and kitchen amenities, and offers expansive vistas over Lake Bonnet. From here, visitors can access the boardwalk ramps down to the floating boat dock with boat rental facilities.

A Cultural and Recreational Resource

Inside the exhibition center, visitors of all ages can learn about the ecosystem that surrounds them in Bonnet Springs Park and central Florida. Exhibits include a working bee hive, a fish tank with species found in Lake Bonnet, and dioramas of the native animals that inhabit the park, such as bobcats, turtles, alligators, birds, and more. The gallery is flanked by large windows to the north, framing views into the rest of the park. 

Beyond the exhibit through glass doors is a large multi-use classroom, providing a destination for field trips and other learning opportunities. With exposed pine ceilings and large picture windows, guests will continue to feel connected to the outdoors and encounter more of the same stunning views of the lagoon found throughout the Nature Center boardwalk.

Exiting the exhibition center and continuing along the raised ipe path, the boathouse playfully peeks out from the oaks, greeting visitors as they approach the lagoon. Here, guests can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddle boats from the lower level dock, or simply find respite from the Florida sun in the screened-in pergola on the main level.

An Integrated Design 

The relationship between the structure and surrounding landscape was enhanced through the procurement of locally-sourced materials and a design that directly engages the visitor with the site. The cypress facades of the structures and deep overhangs direct long views over the lagoon, while the angled roofs create smaller intimate moments that widen into large, expansive vistas. The timber structure is exposed at columns and overhangs, expressing the buildings’ construction while composing a holistic experience with the surrounding oak trees. 

The enclosed spaces of the Nature Center are wrapped in warm cypress boards, featuring pine glulam beams and large picture windows. The pergola is enclosed with mesh screens for the ultimate indoor-outdoor experience, while the gallery and classroom interiors are kept simple and elegant. Where the wood structure is not exposed, the cypress purlins are continued inside and contrasted with clean white walls allowing the gallery exhibits to shine. Vibrant peach tiles in the restroom add a hidden splash of color to the building.

The Nature Center is one of four new destinations born from Sasaki’s design for Bonnet Springs Park, along with the Welcome Center, Event Center, and Florida Children’s Museum and Cafe. All buildings in the 162-acre site are connected via walking paths that are playfully integrated into the changing topography of the park and lead visitors through tree canopy walks, meandering waterways and natural springs, botanical gardens, and more.

For more information contact Fiske Crowell.

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