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“Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile”

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Curators Martin Moeller and John Ochsendorf, talk about the exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” at the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibition showcases the architectural beauty and engineering strength of spaces created by Spanish immigrants Rafael Guastavino and his son, Rafael Jr., who immigrated to New York from Barcelona in the late 19th century.

Their tile structural vaults can be seen all over New York City—at Grand Central Terminal and the famous Oyster Bar, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the Ellis Island Registry Hall, the Elephant House at the Bronx Zoo, the Boathouse and Tennis Shelter in Prospect Park, in Central Park, Grant's Tomb, Riverside Church, and elsewhere.

Guastavino’s tile vaults usually have a herringbone pattern. They’re much lighter and thinner than traditional masonry vaults because they’re made with thin tile, which didn’t require support during construction but is incredibly strong. Guastavino projects can be found in thousands of buildings—architects loved them because the vaults are loadbearing, fireproof, and decorative. “The great thing about the Guastavino system is that it really does bring together structure and finish. It’s about the technical aspect as well as the decorative aspect,” Moeller said. 

There are 250 Guastavino works in the five boroughs, and Ochsdorf and Moeller are still discovering more, here and across the country. “We’re still trying to find all of their existing works, and that’s a really terrific treasure hunt for us to think that there are projects still to be found,” said Ochsendorf. “Our hope is really to activate the public in our search for Guastavino spaces because we are certain that there are dozens still to be discovered in New York."  The public find out where Guastavino projects are, and can submit locations of possibly undiscovered examples on the Museum of the City of New York's interactive map.

 

Leonard Lopate spoke with architect Santiago Calatrava, MacArthur Fellow and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Architecture at MIT John Ochsendorf, and architect Jill Lerner, a Principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) in The Greene Space on February 24.

Watch the entire conversation below:

© Michael Freeman Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York/Museum of City of New York
Bernard Levy Houses. Bernard Levy, an acomplished real estate broker in Manhattan, hired Guastavino as the architect for a series of row houses (pictured here) on the West Side in 1885 and 1886.

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

© Michael Freeman Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York/Museum of City of New York
Entrance vaults at the Riverside Church in Manhattan by the Guastavino Company.

The Guastavino Company was able to integrate its vaulting into the steel framing, so that the loads were shared between the two systems. Though this made the vaulting seem decorative rather than essential, the vaulting was in fact load bearing and part of the building's structural system.

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

© Michael Freeman Courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York
Riverside Church.

Quadripartite Gothic vaults in Akoutstolith at the Riverside Church in Manhattan. Visually, it is impossible to tell that the completed nave of the Riverside Church is framed in steel. The Guastavino Company was able to integrate its vaulting into the steel framing, so that the loads were shared between the two systems. Though this made the vaulting seem decorative rather than essential, the vaulting was in fact load bearing and part of the building's structural system, demonstrating the Guastavino Company's remarkable ability to marry art and engineering.

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

St. Paul's Chapel at Columbia University is one of the earliest buildings designed by I. N. Phelps Stokes, an architect who had studied at Columbia and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The spiral staircase was designed by the Guastavino Company and has served as the visual focal point, as well as a form of structural stability, for the chapel since. 

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

The ornate vaults supported on tile arches at the Elephant House at the Bronx Zoo, designed by the Guastavino Company, represent a fertile period in American Architecture; a time when structures were built to look grand for man or beast.

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

The Della Robbia Room of the Vanderbilt Hotel in New York is considered one of the most outstanding examples of decorative Guastavino vaulting ever built. Working with architects Warren and Wetmore, Guastavino Jr. developed a series of shallow vaults on arches,  which were layered with ceramic pieces that created a relief of color.

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

Throughout their projects, both Guastavino Sr. and Jr. gave valuable insight and advice to architects who were unfamiliar with the technical aspects of construction. Their solutions provided creative and permanent monuments, such as a series of paviliions like the Prospect Park Tennis Shelter in Brooklyn, which was designed by the architectural firm Helmle and Huberty. 

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal is a mature work of the Guastavino Company. Through a series of adjacent vaults, Guastavino Jr. created a space that is once intimate and expansive. The use of only one type of tile provides a uniform finish across a dozen soaring vaults.The legendary durability of Guastavino vaults is also evident here. When a fire struck the Oyster Bar in 1997, thousands of tiles were delaminated, however, the structural integrity of the vaults was not comprised.

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

The Ellis Island Registry Room was originally constructed in 1900 by architects Boring and Tilton with a plaster ceiling, and was reconstructed with a beautiful tile ceiling by the Guastavino Company in 1917; literally becoming a palace for the people of sorts, where millions of immigrants passed through. However, the vaulting wasn't just stunning, it was also structurally stable. When Ellis Island was abandoned for decades and its buildings fell into terrible disrepair, the Guastavino vault remained completely intact.

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

Guastavino Jr.'s Mediterranean-style villa, which was designed by Guastavino Jr. and his friend architect Henry Hornbostel, has an irregular plan and features eccentric Gothic and Romanesque details and large arched windows facing the water. The residence, which is on Bay Shore, Long Island was built almost entirely in tile vaulting as is evident from these tile vaulted stairs. The usage of tile served as a testament to Guastavino Jr.'s longstanding interest in ceramics, his immense private  tile collection, and the level of the family's wealth.

The exhibition “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” is on view at the Museum of the City of New York March 26-September 7, 2014.

Guests:

Martin Moeller and John Ochsendorf

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Comments [5]

Frank Bernard from Grenoble / Barcelona

Have the designs / plans / Tools / bills (to see which companies supplied the materials and where they constructed arches) used by this family/company been archived so in 50, 100, .. the information is available to repair, restore, reuse the technique. Have people who worked for them as mason, etc been interviewed?? They only closed 50 years ago. With Gaudi and other famous architect of that region it is (still) a continuous fight to make sure the remaining information becomes accessible for everybody. Parts of the plans/designs for the Sagrada Familia were lost forever.

Apr. 21 2014 11:52 AM
MK

If I ever need to go grocery shopping, I always make the trip to the Food Emporium BridgeMarket, its an environment you wont feel at any other grocery store. I know its only a grocery store, but its the small things.

Mar. 27 2014 09:43 AM
art525 from Park Slope

I saw the show in Boston and I thought it was terrific. I look forward to having another chance to see it.

Mar. 26 2014 01:10 PM
Lisa from East Harlem

http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-1912-vanderbilt-hotel-park-avenue.html

Mar. 26 2014 01:05 PM
Lisa from East Harlem

The basement of 4 Park Avenue. The tiled arches can be seen in Wolfgang's Restaurant, at the 33rd Street side of the building.

Mar. 26 2014 12:58 PM

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