WEISS/MANFREDI’s Baker Museum makeover yields a bigger, brighter, brawnier space

Time to Shine

WEISS/MANFREDI’s Baker Museum makeover yields a bigger, brighter, brawnier space

WEISS/MANFREDI Architecture/Landscape/Urbanism has shared details and completed project photography of its expansion and renovation of the Baker Museum, a Southwest Florida modern art space in the affluent community of North Naples. In September 2017, the museum was shuttered for a two-year-long rehabilitation project after sustaining significant damage wrought by Hurricane Irma.

In December 2019, a redesigned and more resilient Baker Museum reopened to the public after undergoing a $25 million makeover that installed a curved stone- and metal-clad exterior with a water-resistant barrier designed to weather future storms. In addition to the climate-resilient new facade, the museum, noted for its collections of modern and contemporary art and 20th-century Mexican art, emerged from its repair-necessitated hibernation with a new lobby, refreshed central courtyard, and a nearly 18,000 square foot expansion to the south of the existing 31,400-square-foot museum building. WEISS/MANFREDI’s expansion provided ample additional space for performances, exhibitions, educational endeavors, and social goings-on.

Situated north of an upscale open-air shopping mall within the Pelican Bay enclave, the Baker Museum first opened in 2000 as the flagship visual arts venue for Artis–Naples, a multidisciplinary cultural organization established a little over a decade before. The museum anchors the Kimberly K. Querrey and Louis A. Simpson Cultural Campus, Artis–Naples’ nearly 9-acre arts complex that also features a grand performance hall, Hayes Hall, which serves as the home venue for the Naples Philharmonic, a 283-seat black box theater, and standalone education and administrative buildings. WEISS/MANFREDI was tapped to create a master plan by Artis–Naples for its North Naples campus ahead of Hurricane Irma in early 2017. The first phase was subsequently unveiled by the New York-based firm in November 2018—over a year after Irma–with a new emphasis on remedying the damage inflicted by the storm and mitigating future risks through smart, climate-resilient design of both the building and surrounding landscape.

exterior view of the stone facade of a contemporary museum building with lush, sculpture-dotted grounds
Perched on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the Baker Museum’s new facade is engineered to stand strong against inclement tropical climes. (Albert Večerka/Esto)

“Though Naples is largely considered an elite community, this project targets not only folks that are sophisticated in the arts, but a whole host of people, especially younger kids, who don’t have the benefit of fantastic educations, and are in adjacent communities that aren’t economically privileged,” WEISS/MANFREDI cofounder and principal Michael Manfredi told AN in 2018. “They’re the ones who are hit hardest by any kind of devastation, whether it’s natural or manmade. There is a strong sense from Artis—Naples of wanting to be part of this larger community.”

The bigger, better, brawnier Baker Museum’s highly anticipated post-Irma debut, however, was relatively short-lived as it, along with the larger campus, was forced to close to the public due to the COVID-19 crisis. In August 2020, the museum reopened, the first time in its history that it has operated during the particularly slow month of August, to museum patrons and local first responders for guided tours. In November 2020, just months after the surprise exit of longtime director and chief curator Frank Verpooten, the museum fully reopened to the public with health and safety protocols in place to celebrate its 20th anniversary season with a slate of new exhibitions, including Dreaming Forms: Chihuly Then and Now and Magritte: Reflections of Another World. More recent exhibitions include Marcus Jensen: Two Decades of Relevance and Making a Mark: American Women Artists. All of the aforementioned shows will close on July 25 when the 2020-2021 Artis–Naples season concludes. (Verpooten has since been replaced with Courtney McNeil, former chief curator of the Telfair Museums in Savannah.)

This all being said, the new Baker Museum didn’t, perhaps, have the chance to shine quite the way it would have if Artis-Naples hadn’t suspended, and then reduced, all programming and if the anchoring institution hadn’t temporarily closed its doors due to the pandemic.

Guests given the chance to visit the campus will find the overhauled and expanded Baker Museum is organized around the redesigned Norris Courtyard, a lushly landscaped social space that itself was expanded in part through demolishing the storm-damaged Figge Conservatory.

Climbing up dramatic stone stairs
A dramatic staircase along the east facade links the Baker Museum’s central courtyard to a second-level event space. (Albert Večerka/Esto)

“The newly paved courtyard features a welcoming entry to the museum, native plants, a water fountain, an outdoor cafe, benches, and outdoor space for people to gather over sculpture and events,” noted WEISS/MANFREDI. “Within the courtyard, a visible museum entry re-positioned with views to interior art is established for visiting patrons. An outdoor monumental stair ascends from the courtyard to the balcony leading to the glazed second-floor reception lobby of the Museum expansion.”

As mentioned, the replacement of the building’s old, hurricane-compromised facade was a major element of the project and specifically designed to help the Baker Museum make it through future extreme weather events unscathed:

“The east-facing Trosselfels limestone was selected for its large panel format, low water absorption rate, and resistance to extraordinary dynamic forces such as hurricanes at a minimal thickness with choreographed apertures that provide a visual connection with the Norris Courtyard. The south-facing stone facade frames an opening towards the second-floor event space and a pergola covered rooftop terrace revealing the activities occurring within the museum. The west and north-facing facades are clad in two story bands of fluted metal with limited discreet apertures protecting the art galleries within the museum.”

Inside, the removal of the Figge Conservatory (3,200 square feet of which was demolished as part of the overhaul) enabled the creation of a larger and more dynamic centralized lobby space that includes relocated ticketing and info desks, a museum store, anda variety of works on display from the museum’s permanent collection including a large-scale hanging Dale Chihuly piece.

people gather under palm trees at a museum's sculpture-studded central courtyard at dusk
The Norris Courtyard, a central gathering space for Artis–Naples’ 8.5-acre cultural campus in Collier County, Florida. (Albert Večerka/Esto)

There’s also a new Multipurpose Performance and Learning Center for lectures, recitals, and educational programming on the museums first floor; an acoustical wood-lined Signature Event Space on the second floor for intimate performances and private events that connects to a landscaped new garden, and the new rooftop Sculpture Terrace accessible from the expanded third-floor galleries. As noted by the firm, the terrace “brings the museum outdoors, taking advantage of the tropical climate with a flexible sculpture garden that visitors can enjoy viewing art over light refreshments and views of the waterfront.” The top-to-bottom renovation also entailed numerous back-of-house upgrades and additions including event support spaces and a new protected loading dock.

The Baker Museum concludes its 2020-2021 season on July 2025. Artis—Naples’ announcement of programming and performances for the 2021-2022 season is forthcoming.