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2013 Stresau Award Winner - Bok Tower Gardens Master Plan
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Project Category:  Planning and Analysis

Project Name:  Bok Tower Gardens Master Plan

Project Location:  Lake Wales, Florida 33853

Date of Completion:   2011

Landscape Architect:  David Sacks Landscape Architecture in association w/ Studio Outside


 Owner:  Bok Tower Gardens - David Price, President

The Mountain Lake Sanctuary (now Bok Tower Gardens) was presented as a gift to the American people on February 1, 1929 by self-made publishing magnate, author and philanthropist Edward W. Bok, in a ceremony featuring remarks by President Calvin Coolidge.  Bok – whose other projects included the American Peace Award ($100,000 for the most practicable idea for promoting international peace) and the American Foundation (later instrumental in prison reform and the creation of Medicare) – considered this "sanctuary for humans and birds” his most important contribution.  The gardens, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., were meant as an oasis of peace, where a unified experience of nature, art and music offers transcendence.  Bok wrote that it was created "simply to preach the gospel and influence of beauty, reaching out to visitors through tree, shrub, flowers, birds, superb architecture, the music of the bells, and the sylvan setting.”

In the years since 1929, Bok Tower Gardens (BTG) has grown and evolved, but always with a strong desire to stay true to Mr. Bok’s vision and to preserve the physical character of the Olmsted plan.  The property now includes 200 acres of surrounding natural preserve land and the adjacent, historic Pinewood estate in addition to the 61-acre Olmsted-designed garden. The Garden recognized that broader audience outreach and renewed efforts to be relevant to contemporary needs were critical for economic sustainability.  The goal of the Master Plan was to preserve and strengthen BTG’s historic landscape legacy while accomplishing the following objectives:

  • To provide a framework for new features, spaces and facilities that will support the mission and programs;
  • To better integrate recent and future additions with the historic gardens;
  • To make pedestrian circulation more user-friendly and accessible, and less confusing;
  • To better integrate the "cultural” and "natural” resource areas of the garden into a coherent whole; and
  • To galvanize support for a potential capital campaign.

The development of the Master Plan was intensively interactive and collaborative.  Three two-day workshops, facilitated by the landscape architects, allowed Garden staff, board members, other volunteers, supporters and community members to coalesce around a common sense of the Garden’s identity and mission; a prioritized list of its needs; and a short list of preferred alternatives for site planning and conceptual design solutions to the issues identified.  While the planners did extensive research, including review of primary and secondary historical materials, Garden strategic planning and programmatic documents, and existing site conditions (in terms of both historical integrity and garden operations as well as visitor experience), the resulting insights were used not to inform a consultant-generated plan but rather to guide the refinement and development of concepts that arose from the collaborative process. By the end of the second workshop, a strong consensus plan had emerged.

The resulting Master Plan proposes new gardens in a relatively undeveloped area, north of the Olmsted core gardens, which will link them both physically and thematically with the natural reserve lands to the east.  The Florida Gardens will include a celebration of the area’s agricultural and garden heritage; gardens showcasing native plants in beautifully designed gardens; and gradually wilder areas of wetland and scrub leading to the Pine Ridge Preserve. An adjacent Children’s Garden continues the inter-mingled themes of the indigenous local landscape, the unique cultural heritage of this place and the delights inherent in art, music and other forms of beauty. A new entry path from the 1996 Visitor Center approaches the Olmsted garden on an easier grade, and the Plan generally clarifies and improves visitor circulation, including new shuttle routes and a more intuitive connection to Pinewood.  These and other improvements – including an Education and Event Center , improved support facilities and picnic areas for school groups and general visitors – were accommodated with minimal impact to the historic views, circulation patterns, spatial structure, plantings, topography or other character-defining features of the Olmsted garden – said to be one of his most intact garden designs.

BTG is finding the Master Plan a very effective tool for both internal planning and management guidance and fund-raising efforts with private donors, philanthropic organizations and grant-funding agencies.  Before the project, some stakeholders were uncertain just what a Master Plan was or what it would do for them.  They are now ardent and articulate supporters.  Implementation appears virtually certain, as the Garden is already having fund-raising success, aided by the thoughtful vision of the Plan. The BTG Master Plan powerfully demonstrates the value that design-based planning, led by landscape architects, can add to the viability, energy and sustainability of an important cultural landmark.  A renewed Bok Tower Gardens is poised teach and to inspire the next generation of lovers of art, architecture, music, gardens, and Florida’s history and unique natural landscapes.


Principal In Charge:  Tary Arterburn, Studio Outside

 Lead Planner & Facilitator:  Tres Frommem 3.Fromme Design, LLC [formerly with Studio Outside]

 Co-Lead Planner:  David Sacks RLA, David Sacks Landscape Architecture, LLC

 Designer:  Ellen Calhoun, Studio Outside

 Graphic Designer:  Allison Baker, Studio Outside

 Graphic Designer:  Jessica Pfeffer, Studio Outside 

Watercolor Artist for Perspective Rendering:  Thomas W. Schaller

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MISSION STATEMENT Leading, educating, and participating in the careful stewardship, wise planning, and artful design of our cultural and natural environments.