The Skylight Project in Depth
The Courtyard in Vizcaya's Main House was open to the exterior when Vizcaya was built. It functioned as the center of the building, accommodating native plants and providing ventilation to all of the surrounding rooms.
James Deering only occupied Vizcaya during the winter months and his staff took many precautions to protect the artworks and furnishings during Miami's wet summer months. The open Courtyard nonetheless left Vizcaya more vulnerable to damage from the hurricanes that struck Miami from 1926 on.
After Vizcaya became a museum in 1953, however, the Main House was open to the public and the elements all year. By the 1970s, it became apparent that Miami's subtropical weather was destroying the historic finishes, furnishings and artworks. Plans were developed to enclose the Courtyard with a skylight and install central air-conditioning throughout the Main House. This project was completed in 1986 and the Courtyard's first skylight stood for more than 25 years.
The original skylight did not meet the stringent building codes for windstorm protection that were established after Hurricane Andrew (1992). It also developed severe leaks around the perimeter and staff realized that new technology could likely produce a visually lighter structure than what had been available in the 1980s.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved a $1.4 million grant to Vizcaya to replace the aging skylight. Additional support was provided through the Miami-Dade County Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond. The project was informally launched in 2009 when Vizcaya invited Florida International University and University of Miami architecture faculty and students to a daylong brainstorming session to consider the options.
In mid-2011, Vizcaya hired the architecture firm of M. C. Harry to design the new skylight; Bliss & Nyitray served as structural engineers; Wolfberg Alvarez designed mechanical systems; Renfro and Associates developed a new lighting program; and John Fidler of Simpson Gumpertz Heger assessed environmental conditions and helped to specify conservation and protection methodologies. Vizcaya staff again convened and engaged in ongoing dialogue with architecture faculty and professionals as the design developed.
The new structure is being constructed in 2012. It consists of an aluminum skylight fabricated by Supersky, Inc. of Mequon, WI, resting on four structural steel columns. The skylight will be pyramidal in form, with a small ridge at its top so that the footprint conforms with the Courtyard's dimensions.
The glass panels will be approximately four times the size of those in the 1986 skylight and, thanks to current technologies for screening heat and UV, much clearer too. The new columns will be considerably thinner than the existing columns and, like the framing elements of the skylight itself, these will align with the historic limestone columns on the first and second floors of the Main House.
As part of the skylight replacement project, the project team developed complex methods for protecting the property during construction and has included complete replanting of the Courtyard landscape in accordance with the 2011 cultural landscape report. The project also includes replacement of the existing storm water system to ensure proper drainage.
Thornton Construction, Inc. is the contractor for this project and the skylight replacement will be completed in September 2012. During the project Vizcaya will remain open to the public to the fullest extent possible, providing unprecedented opportunities to see this work in progress.