Palaces for the People: MAR 26 - SEP 7, 2014

Discover the Guastavinos' contribution to some of America's greatest public spaces.

Throughout the five boroughs are more than 200 long-overlooked marvels of engineering and architectural beauty—the interlocking tile vaults built by Spanish immigrants Rafael Guastavino, Sr. (1842-1908), and his son, Rafael Jr. (1872-1950). The system of structural tile vaults developed by the Guastavinos—lightweight, fireproof, low-maintenance, and capable of supporting significant loads—was used by leading architects of the day, including McKim, Mead & White and Carrere & Hastings. Ellis Island’s Registry Room, Carnegie Hall, the Bronx Zoo’s Elephant House, and Grand Central Terminal all contain Guastavino vaults.

Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile is a major exhibition exploring the innovations the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company (1889-1962) brought to the science and art of building. It was originally organized by MIT’s John Ochsendorf, who is a MacArthur Fellow; it is substantially expanded here to include some 20 key Guastavino spaces in the five boroughs.

Exhibition Co-chairs: Paul Katz, FAIA; Jill Lerner, FAIA; Leslie Earl Robertson, P.E.; and SawTeen See, P.E.

Read the press release.

Help us uncover the city’s Guastavino spaces. Exhibition curators Martin Moeller and John Ochsendorf are still trying to find all of the Guastavinos' existing works throughout New York and across the country. They're certain that dozens remain to be discovered. Have you seen one that might be unknown? Upload your photos to the Palaces for the People project website.

Soaring Vaults, Soaring Voices: Music from Guastavino's Spain
Date and Time: 
Thursday, July 17, 6:30 pm
Peruvian classical guitarist David Galvez and Spanish soprano Amaya Arberas will perform songs by contemporaries of Rafael Guastavino.

See all Palaces for the People programs >>


MIT professor John Ochsendorf, his students, and professional masons discuss Guastavino's construction methods as they build a half-scale replica vault. The timelapse photography shows the construction of the replica vault in the exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.

WNYC's Leonard Lopate talks with architects Santiago Calatrava and Jill Lerner and MIT Professor John Ochsendorf in the Greene Space about the marvels of engineering and architectural beauty created by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino Sr. and his son Rafael Jr. throughout New York City’s five boroughs.

  • Press

    • “Look up: Tile Artists' Work Hidden in Plain View,” Associated Press
    • “Approval Matrix: Highbrow / Brilliant,” New York Magazine
    • “Palaces for the People,” WNBC New York
    • “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile,” Leonard Lopate, WNYC
    • “How One Family Built America’s Public Palaces,” Susan Stamberg, National Public Radio


    The exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the Jerome L. Greene Foundation.

    The exhibition is also made possible by:

    The New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

    Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers Local 1
    Todd DeGarmo/STUDIOS Architecture
    Foster + Partners
    Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates
    Rafael Viñoly Architects
    Robert A.M. Stern Architects

    Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects, Inc.
    Spain Culture New York- Consulate General of Spain: member of the network Spain Arts & Culture
    Matthew Karlin, NEMO Tile Company
    Building Conservation Associates
    Buro Happold
    Suzanne Davis and Rolf Ohlhausen
    Gilsanz Murray Steficek
    John G. Waite Associates, Architects
    Leslie Earl Robertson, P.E.
    Stephen B. Jacobs Group, P.C.
    Turner New York
    Jeanne Giordano
    Guy Nordenson and Associates Structural Engineers
    Kaese & Lynch Architecture and Engineering LLP
    Lehr Consultants International
    Lilker Associates Consulting Engineers
    George McDonald
    WSP Group
    Toshiko Mori Architect PLLC
    Bernard Rice, Architect

    Special thanks to the Delegation of the Government of Catalonia

    Presented in partnership with:

    Additional co-sponsorship provided by the New York Transit Museum and The Roosevelt Island Historical Society. 

    Palaces for the People was originally organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with contributions from the Boston Public Library and the National Building Museum. Its presentation at the Museum of the City of New York has been substantially expanded to focus on the many Guastavino treasures in New York City. The national tour of the exhibition is made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, and support from the Institut Ramon Llull, Farragut Fund for Catalan Culture in the U.S., and International Masonry Institute.