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Ca' d'Zan Enters the Digital Age

Whether you live in Sarasota or elsewhere in the United States, The Ca’ d’Zan is a piece of our cultural heritage. It is itself an artifact, not only of the people who lived in it, but of the unique period in which they lived wherein a remarkable collection of art, antiques, artisans, and architects were brought together under one roof. For these reasons, preservation is key, and recently The Ringling began a very exciting collaboration that brings this 1920s mansion into the digital age forever.

The Institute for Digital Exploration at University of Florida (USF IDEx) is creating a 3D model of the Ca’ d’Zan, inside and out. You will soon be able to explore every room, including spaces not open to the public, such as the basement. 

Explore The 3D model of Ca’ d’Zan

The project began with a presentation to Ringling staff of IDEx capabilities. Members from their team demonstrated their 3D scanning technology on various items from the museum collection, including a ceramic basin featuring a rampant lion, created in Spain in the first half of the 15th century.

IDEx use different digital technologies to document archeological sites, sites of cultural heritage, and sites of natural heritage around the world. Their projects include medieval castles in Spain, the fossils in the collection of the French National Museum of Natural History, and a predictive model that generates real-time risk maps of the Zika virus in Florida and Brazil. “IDEx uses cutting edge digital tools to ask new research questions, to advance knowledge, and to solve real world problems,” IDEx Director Michael Decker said. “We provide entirely new means of recording data, manipulating data, and researching specific problems. Our methods allow the acquisition of giant sets of data and their manipulation in ways never before applied to cultural heritage in Florida.”

Member of USF CVAST team taking a 360 scan in the basement of the Ca dZan

The Ringling is fortunate to be their neighbors. “The mission of IDEx to document, preserve, and protect cultural heritage aligns with that of The Ringling, which aims to collect, preserve, and exhibit art for the benefit of the public,” said David Berry, Assistant Director of Academic Affairs at The Ringling. “The technology employed by IDEx will be used to help The Ringling make its collections more accessible to visitors, on site and online.”

To take the scans, the IDEx team spent approximately two weeks meticulously capturing the Ca’ d’Zan. The scanner takes a 360-degree recording while special white orbs, called markers, are strategically placed so that the scans can be matched up, orb to orb, to create a continuous, virtual model. The rich architectural details that make the Ca’d’Zan so unique are also what made it difficult to scan. “This challenged us to think about all of the different angles that we would need to scan in order to get all sides of the furniture and walls,” IDEx research assistant Kaitlyn Kingland said.

USF CVAST camera taking a 360 scan of bedroom in the Ca dZan

IDEx research assistant Michelle Assad said another challenge was that unlike a remote mountaintop castle, the Ca’ d’Zan is a major attraction for Sarasota’s visitors, which meant they were unable to leave out permanent markers during the process. Permanent targets, Assad explained, “Are spheres that stay in a place during the entire project or overnight so that when we arrive at the same spot, we have a way to link it to the previous day's work. At the Ca'd'Zan, we were very conscious about not interrupting the tours or disturbing the general ambience of the house, so we decided not to leave spheres but rather, try a different approach, which was to use architectural elements as our permanent targets.”

The tours coming through the house during IDEx’s work day were far from a nuisance, Assad said. “I really enjoyed hearing all the docents give their tours. They are all so passionate and really enjoy teaching people. I don't think that they realized that I was there listening and learning too! After a while, some of my colleagues would ask something about the house and I'd pop up with an answer that I had heard during a tour!”

Early image from creation of 3D model of the Ca dZan created by USF CVAST

IDEx also received special permission to scan the exterior of the house using a drone (The Ringling cannot usually permit drone photography due to the proximity to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport). This will allow them to reach areas of the house that would not have been documented otherwise—imagine trying to record the roof of the Belvedere Tower with a tripod!

Explore the 3D Model of the Ca' d'Zan Exterior

Their work documenting the Ca’ d’Zan will prove immensely useful in a number of ways. “The virtualization of Ca'd'Zan will provide curatorial staff of The Ringling an invaluable tool to monitor the conditions of the monument and to plan restoration interventions,” said IDEx Faculty Davide Tanasi, Assistant Professor of History at USF and scientific director of the Ca' d'Zan project.

“The virtual model of the mansion could be used to enhance the visitor experience, particularly for those unable to access the upper floors,” David Berry said. And during planned restoration, visitors will be able to visit closed portions of the house virtually. Afterwards, curators can use the model to put the house back exactly as it was. Another use for the model, Kaitlyn Kingland shared, “Is that the house will be preserved in the wake of a natural disaster or the natural erosion process.” 

Tanasi commented that the project is “a powerful communication tool to share the importance of Ringling's legacy with the global public.” This is a key aspect of IDEx’s work: all of their data, from mountain-top castles in Spain to dinosaur fossils in the French Museum, is available for anyone to view online, in perpetuity.

“Ca’d’Zan will exist as a 3D model forever,” Kingland said. “Basically as long as computers and the internet exist, Ca’D’Zan, as it is today, will exist.”

The Ringling and IDEx teams are currently in discussion about potential future projects, which include the scanning John Ringling's private railcar, as well as The Ringling’s collection of ancient Cypriot art.