The new pavilion features 2750 individual terra cotta modules, weighing in at 60-70 pounds each.The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, part of a historic 66-acre estate in Sarasota, Florida has received a striking new pavilion designed by Machado Silvetti to house new gallery and multi-purpose lecture space. Officially called the Center for Asian Art in the Dr. Helga Wall-Apelt Gallery of Asian Art, the project features a custom glazed sculptural terra cotta clad volume elevated off the ground, and attached to the museum’s West Wing galleries via glass bridge. The new 7500 sq. ft. pavilion establishes a new monumental entrance to the museum, and assists in the reorganization of site circulation and infrastructure systems. Teaming with Boston Valley Terra Cotta, the architects developed a cladding strategy to respond to specific environmental, programmatic, and budgetary criteria. The project is inspired by lush foliage and historic architectural ornamentation found within the Ringling estate. Craig Mutter, Principal at Machado Silvetti, says the gallery-based program of the new addition led the project team to considering a conventionally constructed box with very few windows, to reduce glare: “We put our design energies into creating a high performance building envelope.” Machado Silvetti teamed with Boston Valley Terra Cotta, an upstate New York-based architectural terra cotta manufacturer. “We were involved very early in the process," says Bill Pottle, Boston Valley International Sales Manager. "We went from hand sketches to a 3D digital format where we were able to go back and forth with the architect and talk about different sizes. This helped us rationalize and execute the project to fit into both manufacturing and budget parameters." The tiling of the facade was achieved with three primary shapes optimized to the rack size of the kilns utilized in the production of the modules – a 24” square, a 24” portal framing a window opening, and an 18” square. All together, with custom pieces at corners and end conditions, no more than 10 unique shapes were required. The repetitions allowed for efficiencies in the production process, which paired digital modeling and fabrication with hand craft. The modules were made one at a time, weighing between 60-70 pounds apiece. In total, 2750 three-dimensionally shaped ceramic modules were installed on the building. This manufacturing method became a significant constraint on the architectural design, said James Smokowski, Project Manager at Boston Valley. "The size limitation of the RAM drove a number of design changes from the architect.” Initially calling for a 60" x 60" tiled piece, the architects revamped their design to fit within the dimensional constraint of the kiln equipment. Rhino3D models were prototyped into shells using a 5-axis mill, which became the formwork for a hydraulically operated RAM press. A sense of depth was established both by the chiseled three-dimensional form of the ceramic modules and a custom green glaze developed by Boston Valley. Due to the geometry of the modules, the glaze pools in the concavities creating a coating with variable depth. The terra cotta modules were installed on a modified version of Boston Valley’s standard Terraclad stainless steel track and clip system over a standard wall construction of concrete framework infilled with concrete block units. This detailing allowed for cost savings and assisted in the pre-qualification of terra cotta installers. Adjustments to the stock rainscreen system were made to create a consistent 3/8” gap around the full perimeter of each modules, ensuring individual pieces are able to be removed and replaced in the event of any damage. Windows were used sparingly on the facade, composed into clusters where interior program can accommodate some glare. These “clouds” of windows occur in the third floor meeting room along the north facade, and are distributed throughout the facade with careful attention to reducing glare within the gallery space. Despite having significant views to the picturesque Sarasota Bay, windows are used sparingly as accents – tiny portals which nearly disappear into the tiling of the facade. Rodolfo Machado, Principal at Machado Silvetti, says this compositional decision was deliberate: "Perhaps the most effective windows are in the third floor conference room. Here, small windows carefully framing the landscape are quite effective – almost like looking at a painting. In this case, fewer smaller windows work better." Through this modern addition to the Ringling Museum campus, the architects were able to solve programmatic day to day operational issues at The Ringling, which was a big win says Craig Mutter, Principal at Machado Silvetti: “We are particularly proud of this project because our mission was to create a striking addition to this area of the museum that would be a beacon to the visitors on the campus. But we were also able to solve day to day problems the museum was facing, from way finding to operations, to conservation lab connections. We feel this project will have a very big long term impact for the Museum."
Boston Valley Terra Cotta restored the Alberta Legislature Building's century-old dome using a combination of digital and traditional techniques.Restoring a century-old terra cotta dome without blueprints would be a painstaking process in any conditions. Add long snowy winters and an aggressive freeze/thaw cycle, and things start to get really interesting. For their reconstruction of the Alberta Legislature Building dome, the craftsmen at Boston Valley Terra Cotta had a lot to think about, from developing a formula for a clay that would stand up to Edmonton’s swings in temperatures, to organizing just-in-time delivery of 18,841 components. Their answer? Technology. Thanks to an ongoing partnership with Omar Khan at the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning, the Orchard Park, New York, firm’s employees are as comfortable with computers as they are with hand tools. On site in Edmonton, technicians took a 3D laser scan of the dome prior to disassembly. They also tagged specific terra cotta pieces to send to New York as samples. These pieces, which ranged from simple blocks to gargoyles and capitals, went straight to the in-house lab for scanning into Rhino. The drafting department combined the overall scan with the individual scans to create a total picture of the dome’s surface geometry and depth. The individual scans, in addition, were critical to making the approximately 508 unique molds employed on the project. To compensate for the eight percent shrinkage clay goes through during drying and firing, the craftsmen at Boston Valley used to have to perform a series of calculations before building a mold. “[Now we] take the scan data and increase by eight percent by simply doing a mouse click,” said Boston Valley national sales manager Bill Pottle. In some cases, the craftsmen converted the scan data into a tool path for the five-axis CNC machine used to make the molds. “We’re doing that more and more in some of our mold making. It also allows us to ensure that we’re recreating them to the most exacting tolerance and dimensions that we can,” said Pottle. The data from the 3D scans also helped the craftsmen replicate the dome’s complicated curvature. “Between the scanned pieces and the scan of the dome itself, we were able to figure out some very complex geometry where each of these individual pieces had the correct shape to them,” said Pottle. For sustainability and durability, the designers at Boston Valley reconfigured the dome as a rain screen system, with terra cotta components attached to a stainless steel frame. But while the rain screen boosts environmental performance, it also demands incredible precision. Again, the 3D models proved invaluable. “The models allowed these tight tolerances. [We] could explode it and make sure everything was connected. It would have been impossible without that level of sophisticated software,” said president John Krouse. The Alberta Legislature Building dome restoration is the first major project on which Boston Valley has unleashed its full array of digital design tools. Krouse hopes its success—he estimates that the digital tools speeded fabrication by 200 percent—will send a message to designers interested in experimenting with terra cotta: “What we’re trying to say to the architecture and design community globally is don’t be afraid to start designing domes with complex geometry, because we’re equipped with all this technology. It doesn’t have to be a square box.”
Classically trained sculptors breath new life into four 20-foot angels with the help of Rhino.When Old Structures Engineering engaged Boston Valley Terra Cotta in the restoration of the 1896 vintage Beaux-Arts building at 150 Nassau Street in New York—one of the city’s original steel frame structures—the four decorative angelic figures, or seraphs, that adorned the corners of the uppermost story were in serious decay. “Up close, they were in an appalling state,” said Andrew Evans, engineering project manager. “The biggest issue we had with the angels was understanding what happened with the originals.” The seraphs were carved from stone by Spanish immigrant Ferdinand Miranda in 1895 and had suffered years of exposure and improper maintenance. By the time the facade was up for rehabilitation, the angels were haphazardly strapped to the building with steel bands and supported with bricks. Their state was such that repairs would not suffice and Boston Valley’s artisans began the task of recreating the 20-foot-tall Amazonian figures. It was the company’s first foray into parametric modeling. Like Dorothy stepping from sepia tone into Technicolor, the sculptors at Boston Valley Terra Cotta proclaimed, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” when they fabricated the 20-foot angels using parametric modeling and lasers. “I have a history in classical sculpture, so when this came in front of me, it was sink or swim,” said Mike Fritz, master sculptor at the Buffalo, New York–based ceramics company. “We went to Oz and everything changed after that.” Henceforth, the newly constructed terra cotta angels came to be known as “Dorothy.” The most decrepit angel was photographed onsite and then disassembled for shipment to Buffalo. In Boston Valley Terra Cotta’s ceramics studio, the images were converted with photogrammetry software and transferred to Rhino to build a digital model. The model was divided into sections, such as an arm, a face, several feathers of a wing, etc. Then a laser cutter was used to cut plywood profiles that matched each section. “Those [plywood] profiles of her face or her arms were packed with clay to realize the full forms,” said Mitchell Bring, the project manager for Boston Valley Terra Cotta. Each of Dorothy’s parts were hand-finished by Boston Valley’s staff of 30 sculptors. Once the clay had set, negative molds were made of each section to form the parts for Dorothy’s identical sisters. The finished sections, each of which weighs upward of 500 pounds, were shipped back to 150 Nassau Street in pieces and assembled onsite with mortared joints. Since completing the project, the digitally enhanced sculpture methods have been refined and wholly embraced by Boston Valley’s team of artisans. “Through this work flow, we’re able to get a little closer to our material earlier in the process,” Fritz said. “If we went without the new tools, it would have been six weeks of work in total. But even with our substantial learning curve the modeling and the build on the shop floor only took two-and-a-half weeks total.”