Palaces for the People

Guastavino and the Art of Structural Tile

March 26 - September 7, 2014

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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.

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.


  • “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

Read the press release.

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