2050 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Ringling College of Art + Design. Sweet Sparkman Architects
The Richard and Barbara Basch Visual Arts Center might be the most daring new building in the Sarasota region.
The zinc-coated panels on the slightly deconstructed building — its sections almost stand alone — tell the passer-by that this is not your typical Florida structure.
“The project is quite transformative,” said Martin Gold, an architecture professor at the University of Florida, “using the program spaces and architecture to form well-defined urban spaces.”
“The design is well-conceived on many different levels,” said architect Max Strang, who splits his professional endeavors between Miami and Sarasota. “It is exciting to see how the architects capture the optimism and sophistication of an expanding Ringling College.”
Forming a hub at the center of the Ringling College campus, a block east of U.S. 41, the north-facing building houses the fine arts program — the central program of the college’s curriculum.
The 38,000-square-foot building cost about $9 million. It houses classrooms and studios for glass sculpture, ceramics, woodworking, printmaking, photography and digital fabrication.
The Basch Center has a three-story west wing and a single-story structure that contains a gallery. They are connected by a sheltered breezeway that unifies the campus from the Ulla Searing Center on the north to the Academic Center to the south.
Architect Jerry Sparkman said the sleek, dark gray façade shelters the sometimes “gritty” art disciplines inside.
The environmentally friendly, long-lasting zinc cladding is cut with deep, angled gouges painted dark red. A cantilevered provides shady public space for students. Inside is a digital lab.
The building defies a label. Contemporary? Neo-modern? Millennial modern? Architects, in general, don’t like such labels, but non-architects find them useful in defining the built environment.
“I see it as contemporary architecture. I don’t have a label other than that,” Sparkman said. “It is an architecture that allows us to explore ideas that feel relevant today. You don’t usually get to use architecture to explore other mediums.
“It is an architecture that uses the functions within the building, the program, to really test the architecture. That building is filled with woodworking, with printing, with glass-making, ceramics, these traditional artistic practices, and somehow we were able to look at those as a way to influence the architecture. It is an architecture that is born out of understanding what the building is about.”
The curve of the taller section, the cantilevers and the cutouts pull the project, and Sarasota architecture as a whole, further into the realm of the best of current architectural standards.
“If there are any regrets I have,” Sparkman said of his practice with partners Todd Sweet and John Bryant, “it was when we didn’t stick ourselves out far enough and be willing to take some arrows. I am unsettled by beautiful, yet derivative architecture.
“Find your own voice. That is a hard thing to do, but it is worth it. I hope we make architecture that tells somebody something that maybe they didn’t know. Break down your own parameters and barriers. You might fail, but that is the risk.”