Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile, now on view at the Museum of the City of New York, examines the engineering and architectural beauty of spaces designed and built by Spanish immigrant Rafael Guastavino and his son, Rafael Jr.
The exhibition features never-before-seen objects, artifacts, photographs and documents on the Guastavinos’ thin-tile structural vaults which grace more than 250 architectural landmarks in New York City including Grand Central Terminal, the Ellis Island Registry Room and the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine.
YMCA swimming pool, Jersey City
“As you walk through New York City, look up,” said Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director of the City Museum. “You see the Guastavino Company’s treasures hiding in office buildings, parks and even subway stations. Guastavino vaults represent a remarkable marriage of art and engineering—and tell an extraordinary story of an immigrant family that helped create the look of New York.”
Oyster Bar, Grand Central Terminal, NYC
Immigrating to New York in the late 19th century, the Guastavinos brought with them a centuries-old Mediterranean design technique—thin-tile structural vaulting—and perfected it to be lightweight, fireproof, load-bearing, cost-efficient and beautiful. Integrating engineering strength and architectural beauty, the Guastavinos’ structural tile was capable of spanning broad interiors with soaring vaults, a development that literally shaped the course of modern architecture, as well as the architectural identity of New York City.
The Elephant House, Bronx Zoo
The family’s innovation garnered the attention of leading architectural firms of the day, including Carrére & Hastings, Ralph Adams Cram, Cass Gilbert, and McKim, Mead & White, which hired the Guastavinos to design and build dozens of projects.
Detail of tile work in the Della Robbia Room
“Many of the defining landmarks of turn-of-the-century New York feature grand interiors covered with Guastavino vaults and domes,” said G. Martin Moeller, Jr., guest curator for the City Museum’s presentation of Palaces for the People. “These beautiful structures contributed significantly to New York’s architectural landscape in that period, and have since inspired generations of architects, designers and builders around the world.”
Boston Public Library
Highlights of the exhibition include a large-scale replica of a Guastavino vault, an interactive video installation created by Studio Indefinit that enables people to “visit” Guastavino spaces without leaving the exhibition, original drawings from the archives of the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company and historical photographs from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York that show Guastavino’s New York projects at various stages of their history.
The exhibition is on view at the museum through Sunday, September 7.
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