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Guastavino Tile Vaulting

04.24.13 / Arthur Cohen, FAIA, LEED AP

Not too long ago, I saw an exhibit at the Boston Public Library (BPL) entitled “Palaces for the People” about the work of the Guastavino family (the exhibit ended February 24, 2013).

The Guastavino family was responsible for some of the most breathtaking public spaces in the United States. Prominent in this work were structural tile vaulted ceilings, in some cases spanning massive spaces within train stations, libraries, and other public venues.  Their creativity and patented construction methods kept them at the vanguard of construction during the latter half of the nineteenth century and earlier part of the twentieth century. 

Detailed Guastavino tile work on a smaller scale was also on display in the BPL exhibit and was contained in the book of their work.

For those of you that did not get to see the exhibit firsthand or would like to know more about their work, I recommend the book entitled “Guastivino Vaulting: the Art of Structural Tile,” by John Ochsendorf.

A little known secret: There is an abandoned train station in New York City, City Hall Station (1904-1945), which has some of the most exquisite Guastavino tile vaulting.  It is still inaccessible except if you know the trick about staying on the 6 train past the last stop. Instead of getting off at the Brooklyn Bridge stop, stay on and as the train loops around back to uptown it will pass through the station and you will get a glimpse of some incredible architecture:

Photo taken by John-Paul Palescandolo and Eric Kazmirek (via the Huffington Post).

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