The Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida, is famed for its ornate Venetian-Gothic Cà d’Zan mansion. Translated, “Cà d’Zan” means “House of John,” referring to John Ringling, who shared the residence with his wife, Mable.
In 1924, construction started on the mansion that was designed by New York architect Dwight James Baum. His design embodied the palazzos that line the Venice canals, emulating the Italian decor that the Ringlings fell in love with on their many trips to the Mediterranean. The building also typified the Roaring Twenties. More than 90 years on, however, the Cà d’Zan remains the showpiece structure on the Ringling Museum site. Boston firm Machado Silvetti used it as a precedent for the building’s recently completed extension of the Asian Art Study Center.
This new project includes the conversion of approximately 18,000 square feet of preexisting gallery space from a temporary exhibition area to permanent galleries. Catering to the museum’s developing Asian collection, the scheme also includes a gut renovation of the west-wing galleries, located to the southwest.
The most visually striking aspect of the project, though, is the shimmering terra-cotta-tiled facade. Craig Mutter of Machado Silvetti said the facade is meant to act as a guide to visitors, highlighting the entrance to the building.
“People would often be lost and wander into the loading-bay area,” Mutter said. “There was no visual key to tell you where to go, and so the mission of the project was to provide this clear marker and definitive entrance.”
The client had asked for a “monumental” entrance, for “something that did not currently exist on the site.” What resulted were more than 3,000 jade-colored ceramic tiles cladding the elevated extension. Their color, Mutter said, is a nod to the natural surroundings and opposes the original pink Italian campus.
In terms of procuring the tiles, the firm sought the help of Boston Valley Terra Cotta, who also worked on the renovation of the Cà d’Zan in 1999. Such experience gave Mutter and his team confidence that they could work successfully to deliver the facade they wanted.
In fact, a ceramic skin was something that had intrigued Machado Silvetti for quite some time. “We had done a number of facade screens in the past where we had been interested in using ceramic but for one reason or another were not able to do so, usually because of the available technology at the time,” said Mutter.
Originally, they had planned for the tiles to be both larger and thicker. However, the dimensions were reduced by four inches on each side and two inches in thickness to allow Boston Valley to fire more panels inside their kiln.
The tiles also enabled the firm to deliver a high-performance envelope. Their large mass helped combat heat gain while also acting as a barrier between the envelope and the elements. “The program demanded a constantly monitored climate control; that meant we really wanted to ensure that there was a continuous insulated seal,” Mutter explained. “By using the panel system that we adopted, we essentially used a rain-screen system to allow the continuous insulation and air-vapor barrier to wrap the museum.”