MCNY PRESENTS THE STORY BEHIND NYC’S DRAMATIC TILED ARCHES

By kristin

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If you’ve ever dined under the pearlescent vault of the Grand Central Oyster Bar or marveled at the abandoned subway station at the end of the 6 train line, then you’ve seen the work of the Guastavinos – the father-and-son team whose arched tile ceilings helped transform America’s interior spaces at the turn of the 20th century.

Their innovative method of constructing elegant, self-supporting thin tile vaults is the focus of a fascinating exhibition, Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile, at the Museum of the City of New York running until September 7, 2014.

Palaces for the People exhibit at MCNY

With archival photos, a large-format photograph of the now defunct City Hall subway station and a half-scale replica of a Guastavino vault, the exhibit takes you back in time, when New York underwent a profound physical and cultural transformation in the late 1800s. Money was being poured into the beautification of municipal buildings and the creation of grand architectural landmarks such as Ellis Island, Carnegie Hall, the Municipal Building and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. These structures, and hundreds of others throughout the country, all contain one of the most beautiful engineering feats of the 20th century: interlocking tile vaults designed and built by a single New York firm, the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company.

Palaces for the People at MCNY

Founded by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino Sr., and subsequently led by his son, Rafael Jr., the Guastavino Company helped build some of the most impressive interior spaces in America. Based on early Mediterranean building methods, their patented system for constructing domes and vaults involved multiple layers of thin ceramic tiles bonded with quick-drying mortar. The resulting structures were not only exceptionally strong, but also lightweight, easy to build, and inherently beautiful, thanks to intricate patterns of exposed tile that formed finished, decorative surfaces. During its 73-year history, the Guastavino Company contributed to some of America’s greatest public spaces – veritable palaces for the people.

Guastavino tile

 

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