Polk Museum of Art, Completed 1988

Lakeland’s unique architectural heritage is renowned, housing the world’s largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structures on the campus of Florida Southern College, alongside other remarkable buildings crafted by notable architects such as Santiago Calatrava, Robert A.M. Stern, Nils Schweizer, and Donovan Dean. Among these and near the heart of Downtown Lakeland, another piece of local history stands quietly as a testament to architectural excellence.

Straughn Trout Architects (STA) is proud to share that the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College has been honored with a Merit Award in the Test of Time category by the Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Florida).

The award was evaluated by a distinguished body of experts from the architectural community who convened in Seoul, South Korea this past spring. The jury was chaired by Gibson Rhie, a leading figure in advancing Korean architecture to the global stage and Executive Director of SAMOO Architects and Engineers. Other esteemed jurors included Yongkyo Jeong, CEO and President of Junglim Architecture; Jin Baek, Professor at Seoul National University; Jeong-im Kim, Principal of Seoro Architects; and Jongdae (Jaydi) Park, Principal of JEJEHAAP Architects.

Museum Gallery facing West

Completed in Fall 1988, this iconic institution has not only fulfilled its original mission but has also become an integral part of the cultural fabric of Central Florida. This recognition highlights the Museum’s exceptional ability to harmonize function, aesthetics, and execution, ensuring its relevance and inspiration to the local community for nearly 36 years.

The Polk Museum of Art boldly upholds its modernist design form, standing as a significant public structure within the East Lake Morton Historic District, an area predominantly shaped by Bungalow and Mediterranean residential structures crafted during the Florida Boom between 1920 and 1926.

A. Ernest Straughn Sketches, Polk Museum of Art

The Polk Museum of Art is more than just a building; it is a space where art, education, and community converge. Its design was conceived with the future in mind, creating an environment that could evolve with the changing needs of its users while maintaining its architectural integrity. Today, it continues to serve as a beacon of culture and creativity in our community while expanding its educational mission through its affiliation with Florida Southern College (FSC) since 2017 where it has served as the home for the College’s Art History and Museum Studies Department.

The original groundbreaking ceremony for the Museum took place on December 2, 1986, marking a significant milestone in the cultural development of Central Florida. Attended by notable figures including Rhea Chiles (longtime Museum supporter and First Lady of Florida during the tenure of her husband, Governor Lawton Chiles), Polk School Superintendent John Stewart, Lakeland Mayor Larry Durrence, and JuDee Pettyjohn (Assistant Director for the State Division of Cultural Affairs), the event highlighted the Museum’s commitment to education and community engagement. The involvement of five Polk County fifth graders in the ceremonial groundbreaking further symbolized the Museum’s educational mission.

In a special edition published by the local newspaper just before the Museum opened in September 1988, the community’s anticipation and excitement were palpable. The Museum’s inaugural exhibitions featured prominent artists such as Max Papart, James Rosenquist, and David Davis, whose works set the tone for the Museum’s commitment to showcasing diverse and impactful art. At that time, the Museum was one of only 16 art museums accredited by the American Association of Museums in the State of Florida. Now, through its partnership with FSC and affiliation with the Smithsonian Institute, the Museum remains a steward of cultural excellence in Central Florida.

Early Concept Rendering, PMoA Entry Gallery

The facility design was led by the late A. E. “Ernie” Straughn, an avid supporter of the arts, with significant contributions by Gerald “Jerry” Trout – the namesake leaders of our firm. The building’s architecture provides a dynamic and inviting space that resonates with the local community and other visitors alike, seamlessly integrating strategic design principles with the demands of a premier arts institution. With an original total project cost of $4.7 million, it was envisioned as an innovative educational museum, forming a cultural center in conjunction with the adjacent Lakeland Public Library (of which a major expansion was also designed by our firm and completed just prior in 1986). The Museum’s programs have always been integral to the local education system, offering a range of visual art education and exhibition programs that have received state-wide recognition.

Campus Site Plan

Straughn, Trout and the design team succeeded in their goal to create a museum that would be celebrated not just in Polk County, but across the state. “I wanted to design a museum that would be nice for Tampa or St. Petersburg. A museum that would be good for any town,” Straughn said in an interview shortly after the ribbon-cutting of the facility. Their dedication to creating a “piece of artwork” that houses art is evident in the building’s unique design, from its marble-floored corridors and oak-floored galleries to the 16-foot-high ceilings and intricate brickwork.

Entry Canopy Detail

The vision for the Polk Museum of Art was to create a landmark that would inspire pride and admiration, reflecting the quality and cultural richness of the community. The firm’s efforts, combined with the collaborative spirit of the project team and community support, resulted in a museum that continues to stand as a testament to architectural excellence and community spirit.

The Museum features hundreds of works each year in a variety of exhibits. These exhibits often revolve around a central theme or idea and link artworks from the ancient past with those of modern artists. The Polk Museum of Art now boasts a permanent collection of over 3,000 works and several traveling exhibits that provide diverse displays ranging from American folk art, modern masters, Japanese prints and textiles, to African art, a permanent Pre-Columbian display, and much more. In the past few years, the Museum has hosted some of its most successful exhibits to date, including the “Rodin: Contemplation and Dreams” exhibit that included more than 40 of Rodin’s original works, and the recently completed “Rockwell / Wyeth: Icons of Americana” exhibit that included 40 original paintings paired with 321 Saturday Evening Post covers by Rockwell from 1916 to 1963.

Receiving the Test of Time Merit Award is a moment of pride for our firm. It reaffirms our commitment to designing spaces that not only fulfill present-day needs but also endure as significant landmarks for future generations. We are grateful to AIA Florida for this recognition and to the community that has embraced and supported the Polk Museum of Art over the years.

East Entry

Since Ernie Straughn’s passing in 2013, Straughn Trout Architects has continued to thrive and grow, carrying forward his legacy of architectural excellence as well as continued shepherding of quality and integrity from Jerry Trout. The Polk Museum of Art stands as a testament to their vision and our firm’s ongoing commitment to creating spaces that enrich and inspire.

As an integral part of the original design, future expansion of the Museum was always envisioned. Over the years, several different expansion concepts were explored through a continued partnership with our firm. Some proposed taking advantage of the enhanced original structural design of the existing galleries that could support a future second-story expansion. Others included expansions of amenities including restaurant and event space additions. In 2022, in close collaboration with Florida Southern College, the firm led by Managing Principal Tim Hoeft, propelled the long-time vision forward, designing a contemporary two-story expansion that will more than double gallery and classroom spaces. The Expansion, currently under construction and scheduled for completion in late 2024, follows the recently completed major renovations to the Lakeland Public Library including the development of the Lakeland History and Culture Center – also designed by STA and led by Principal Jon Kirk.

Conceptual Rendering, The Expansion, Currently Under Construction

As we celebrate this achievement, we are reminded of the importance of thoughtful, forward-thinking design. The Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College stands as a shining example of what can be accomplished when architectural vision and community values align.

We invite you to learn more about the Polk Museum of Art and its current expansion by visiting our website or stopping by the Museum at 800 E. Palmetto Street in Lakeland to experience its timeless design firsthand.


The Florida Green Building Coalition (FGBC) recently announced the 2023 Green Achievement Award Finalists, recognizing projects that emanate commitments to improving the built environment in Florida through Florida-centric sustainable practices. Among the Highest Scoring Projects for Commercial Design was the St. Johns River Water Management District Apopka Service Center, a 17,160 SF multi-purpose office and training center for the District designed by Straughn Trout Architects.

Read more about this recognition from the Florida Green Building Coalition.

Learn more about this project.

McFadden Nature Center RaingardensMcFadden Nature Center  |  Donalsonville, GA

Straughn Trout Architects is beyond proud to share that its project, the McFadden Nature Center, has earned an AIA Florida Design Award for 2023—one of the most prestigious awards bestowed by the AIA Florida. More than 250 submissions from Florida and Puerto Rico were evaluated by a Panama City, Panama-based jury of architectural experts. STA was presented with this award at the AIA Florida Design & Honor Awards on July 29. Read more about the project here.

Photo credit: AIA Florida

The Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects, headquartered in Tallahassee, represents the interests of more than 3,900 members in Florida and the Caribbean. Members adhere to a code of ethics and professional conduct that assures the client, the public and colleagues of an AIA-member architect’s dedication to the highest standards in professional practice.



STA is proud to share that the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) Apopka Service Center earned GOLD Certification by the Florida Green Building Coalition. This designation is awarded to buildings that exemplify the highest standards for sustainability in the State of Florida.

[Above: East façade of the SJRWMD Apopka Service Center.]

The Apopka Service Center is a 17,160 SF multi-purpose office and training facility for the SJRWMD. The project was delivered in conjunction with The Collage Companies, utilizing the Design-Build approach, allowing for streamlined communication between the contractor/design team, subcontracts, and owner.


Straughn Trout Architects (STA) was named to the University of Florida’s 2023 Gator100 during a ceremony on April 21 in the Exactech Arena at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on UF’s campus. This is the third time in five years STA has earned this prestigious honor.

Each year, the Gator100 recognizes the world’s fastest-growing Gator businesses owned or led by UF alumni. Ernst & Young, independent accounting firm of the Gator100 since the program began in 2015, verifies financial information submitted by each company and calculates the rankings based on compound annual growth rate over the past three years.

For more than six decades, Straughn Trout Architects has established a reputation for creating iconic environments to live, work, play, learn and worship in Central Florida and throughout the United States. The firm’s work is diverse and carefully-crafted, including new designs for contemporary complex structures; educational and institutional campuses; and historic building restorations & redevelopments. STA’s Managing Principal, Tim Hoeft, AIA and Principal Jon Kirk, AIA, are alumni of the School of Architecture at the University of Florida College of Design, Construction, and Planning.

The 2023 Gator100 celebrated companies from over 18 industries, with the top three representing construction and design, health, and real estate. Of the 100 businesses, 77 were Florida companies with other top state headquarters including Georgia, South Carolina, and California.

“These UF alumni-owned or -led companies create jobs, add value to our communities, and make an impact around the world,” said Brian K. Danforth, Assistant Vice President of Development and Executive Director of the UF Alumni Association. “These 2023 honorees represent the very best of our Gator entrepreneurs and business leaders. They shine a bright light on the University of Florida and the graduates it produces – people with vision, drive and determination.”

View the complete list of 2023 Gator100 honorees at https://gator100.ufl.edu/2023-honorees.


At the 2022 AIA Tampa Bay Honor & Design Awards, STA’s project, the McFadden Nature Center, earned a Merit Award for Unbuilt Commercial Design. STA Principal & Project Architect, Jon Kirk, AIA accepted the award.

Jon Kirk, AIA is presented with a Merit Award by the AIA Tampa Bay.
Jon Kirk, AIA accepts award for the McFadden Nature Center; Photo Credit: Mark Borosch Photography

Read more about the McFadden Nature Center project here. A full press release for the AIA Tampa Bay Celebrate Design Awards can be viewed here.