People say the desert makes its own music. The city of Phoenix has recently brought music from around the world to its desert environment with the construction of the Musical Instruments Museum. A two-story composition of simple, fractured stone forms, the 190,000 sq. ft. museum building harmonizes with the surrounding southwestern terrain.

Robert Vega’s team from Penacchio Tile was given approximately five months to complete the 32,000 sq. ft. flooring project and also install tiles along the museum’s curved walls. In the first month, five two-man crews worked 10 hours a day putting down 22,000 sq. ft. of large-format porcelain floor tile from Lea in 24” x 48”, 16” x 24” and 8” x 24” sizes.

The biggest installation challenge: the floors had to be absolutely level, especially in areas where tiles adjoined hardwood floors. A dry-pack mortar bed (up to 2 1/2” thick) allowed the installers to solve this issue with the use of a laser to determine thicknesses in each area. MAPEI’s Ultracontact medium-bed mortar helped the team make the final adjustments that kept the entire floor level and smooth. Keracolor S grout was selected to fill the joints.

The remaining 10,000 sq. ft. of tile were installed in eight separate public restrooms plus two smaller bathrooms over the next four months. Here, the crews were challenged to get full tiles to cover the entire expanse of the floors. They broke the joints on columns and around sink walls. The 18” x 18” wall tiles from Caesar Ceramiche were set with Ultraflex LFT mortar, while the 24” x 24” floor tiles from Lea were set with Ultracontact.

Concurrently, large format tiles were being set on the curved walls of the first and second floors of the atrium. Vega found the true value of Ultraflex LFT in this part of the installation. “We used the LFT on the 10’ high walls because the installers could stack the 18” x 18” Caesar Ceramiche porcelain tiles the full height of the walls. Its non-sag properties and performance were exceptional. Plus, it had great pot life in the hot weather. ”

Vega’s crew again used a laser square to get a starting point off the radius and began laying their tiles on the curved walls. Another challenge arose because the drawings called for the wall tile joints to line up perfectly, even where they were interrupted by the elevators. The elevator wall tiles also had to match the wall tiles when the doors were open. All walls in these areas we grouted with Opticolor and floors with Keracolor S.

Designed with spacious seating and state-of-the-art acoustics, the 299-seat, two-story Music Theater is a premier venue for performances, films, and seminars about musical traditions from around the world. In this setting, Sun Valley Masonry of Phoenix used Ultraflex 3 to install stones at different depths using the stacked stone method.

The large format tiles were carried into the MIM Café, where guests can enjoy regional cuisine. Here, Vega’s crew also set the floor tiles with Ultracontact mortar and grouted with Keracolor S. On a half-wall between the dining and serving areas and the full-height walls, a small, thin, mesh-mounted “finger” tile was set using Ultraflex LFT and a 1/2” notched trowel. In the kitchen, a Petty’s Tile of Phoenix crew set the floor tiles with Ultracontact, and grouted the joints with Kerapoxy IEG to resist food, grease and other chemical spills.- Diane Choate