Ringling's New Glass House


The Ringling's newest building will be all about glass, inside and out.

Before a large gathering of community leaders and benefactors, The Ringling officially broke ground Wednesday on the Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion just inside the main entrance to the 66-acre arts mecca. The ceremonial shovels were embedded in a box of sand, because, after all, glass is made from sand.

The new building will house The Ringling's growing collection of European and American studio glass, much of it from the collections of Nancy and Phil Kotler and Warren and Margot Coville. It also is a tribute to the artistic potential of glass, as its south and east facades will be covered in high-performance glass panels.

Designed by Lewis + Whitlock Architects of Tallahassee, the building will be the latest in a series of progressive structures built at The Ringling since 2007. The 5,500-square-foot Glass Pavilion is in fact an addition to the John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion, a multi-purpose structure that is perhaps accommodating too many purposes.

It will provide a new formal entrance to the Historic Asolo Theater. It is hoped that will alleviate the tangle of patrons in the McKay Center as people line up for tickets while others attend classes or receptions, queue up at the restaurant, join tour groups or browse in the gift shop.

“Particularly during season, but almost all the year, we have so many people entering the visitors pavilion that it can back up and get very confusing inside,” said Stephen High, executive director of The Ringling. “We needed a new entrance into the historic theater that would give it more prominence. It is a beautiful theater, but it is hidden as you walk into the visitors pavilion now.”

When the Kotlers donated their collection of studio glass, and were joined by the Covilles, High said, the opportunity arose to “create this glass pavilion that will function as both a permanent gallery for our studio glass collection, and at the same time, a new entry and support services space for the historical Asolo theater.”

The building also will have dressing rooms for actors in the theater and a rehearsal/dance space that is the same size as the Asolo stage.

“This is like the Swiss Army Knife of buildings,” said architect Cam Whitlock. “It will do a lot with a very little space.”

The details

Most of the building will have a gallery for the studio glass collection.

The gallery will face east and open at 10 a.m., so sunlight control will be critical.

To meet that need, the architects created a wall of fixed louvers that will block sunlight from the south and east. Louvers often were used in a more straightforward way by the architects of the midcentury Sarasota School; here, they are employed artistically in a way that resembles ripples of sand on a beach.

“We were informed by the environment, for sure,” said architect Hays Layerd. “By the waves and the air and how sand responds to that action across it. You can see the ripples of the sand beneath the water. That was the inspiration, sand being so important to glass.

“We applied it vertically and found a way that we could use it to filter sunlight. Soft light is good. Harsh light is detrimental” for the patrons.

Layerd said the engineers who worked on the design were “very pessimistic that we could get the amount of glass we wanted.” Having only three sides — the west side will butt up against the McKay building and connect to existing doorways — “helped us meet the new energy code, as you are only allowed so much glass. Having a whole solid side of the building helped us get a lot more glass” in the front.

Architecturally, the modernist Glass Pavilion is designed to be compatible with the McKay Center, designed by an HOK Architects team led by Yann Weymouth, Whitlock said. “But also something that makes its own statement,” he added. “You can see there is a lot more glass, and we were trying to relate to the glass collection. The donors would have had an all-glass building if they could have.”

Construction is expected to begin in June, with the building opening in the fall of 2017.

The challenge, said David Sessions of Willis Smith Construction, is that the building will go up on a small plaza to the right of the 1926 entry gate — just a few feet from the main entrance to the visitors center.

“It's a complicated project,” Sessions said. “Look at the space we have to work in. It basically is going to fill this space, plus, the museum has to stay open and operating. This will be like building in downtown Sarasota when you think about the space that we have and dealing with the public.”