Copia’s previous owner, the famed Robert Mondavi, opened the building as the American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts in 2001 but it was closed for financial reasons in 2008 and remained vacant until the CIA’s 2015 purchase.
The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) purchased Copia in 2015 to pioneer public programming dedicated to underscoring the food and beverage experience. Envisioning a space in which members of the community and tourists alike can have the opportunity to embody culinary artistry, the CIA selected a location in Napa; identifying with the area’s love for food, wine, and artistry. Copia was in desperate need of new life and since the community had been deeply involved with Copia’s narrative, it was important that its future consider social and historical contexts while rising to meet its new need as a modern complex for culinary advancement, public engagement, and tourism in a community setting.
The CIA brought on Architectural Resources Group (ARG) to renovate the campus for its new use. Since the original 2000 building was intended to be a museum and varied-use space it did not have many windows and evoked a certain compartmental sterility. One of ARG’s goals in the project was to reveal the warmth and airiness with which many associate Napa and bring this building to its full potential as hub for learning, eating, and drinking.
With Mondavi’s original vision of a creating a cultural site dedicated to Napa’s food and beverage heritage in mind, ARG worked with the CIA through the master planning phases for both the new campus at Copia and the current campus at Greystone. With an approved master plan for both campuses, ARG began the phased work as lead architect for the build-out of each space. The simultaneous planning and work at both campuses enabled ARG to address the conceptual juxtaposition of these two projects; addressing aspects of cohesion as appropriate to sister campuses and creative individuality as related to their respective needs, spaces, and communities.
A newly constructed outdoor amphitheater at Copia was completed in the fall of 2016, a prized addition representative of the campus’ dedication to spatial fluidity and public engagement. The space is convertible, seating 350 with tables or 600 without, demonstrating the theatre’s flexibility in tending to myriad community and tourist use. The stamped and stained concrete seat walls have grass infill with decomposed granite at the pathway, a direct reflection of the amphitheater’s site and innate connection with natural built elements evoked by Napa’s built environment. There is a point of accessible e/ingress that traverses the grounds from the parking area to the amphitheater and proceeds behind the stage’s backdrop to stage level, this also serves for the loading and unloading of equipment for shows. There is a network of electrical connections below the amphitheater which capacitate the necessary conduits from the stage to the soundboards living at the back of house. Low-level lighting is recessed into the seat walls throughout and there are plans to implement a sunshade to provide relief from the heat during daytime events.
The renovation of the existing restaurant space and the conversion of a grab and go café into private dining rooms, a lounge, and bar were also completed in 2016. The restaurant space is the embodiment of a new dining concept dedicated to providing an intimate dining experience while creating an open-air feel that permeates into the surrounding landscape. This was accomplished by integrating warm, natural materials and light into the space and creating an entirely new window façade to bring views of the garden inside and the sightlines of the diners outside. The bar, lounge, and retail space now provide visitors with a visually welcoming entry and a beckoning connection to the rest of the campus.
In early 2018, ARG completed construction on the teaching kitchens - six commercial cooking suites for classes and public boot camps. The teaching kitchens serve the public, rather than the culinary students. This fosters connection with the community. There is room for three classes of 24 students to be in session at once time. A mixture of professional- and residential-grade equipment meets the needs of the “prosumer” envisioned to use this space. The addition of locker rooms, dishwashing room, and food storage at one end of the existing gallery make it a functional food service area. renovation of the first floor atrium space for the Wine Hall of Fame plaque display, wine tasting kiosks for Napa Valley Vintners, and additional display for donated collections.
ARG converted Copia’s box office, adjacent to the main entrance, into a grab-and-go food stall with rotating special menus created by the CIA chefs. ARG added a demonstration kitchen to the existing 250-seat theater, providing space for demonstrations that connect professional chefs with the public and foster a love of food and cooking. The kitchen can be closed off and a projection screen pulled down so the theater can continue to function for speaking engagements and events such as the Napa Film Festival.
The American Wine Hall of Fame at Copia honors those who have contributed to wine making in the United States, especially in the Napa Valley, with bronze plaques and iPad reader rails and information boards that educate the public about the history of wine in the United States. ARG converted a former temporary gallery on the second floor into the 6,000-square-foot Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum , which displays the more than 4,000 cookware, hand tools, tableware and other equipment collected by the founder of Williams-Sonoma. It includes a demonstration kitchen occupies one end of the room.