The museum of the City of New York will show a complete retrospective of the Valencian architect Rafael Guastavino’s legacy, under the framework of the exhibition “Palaces for the People”. Guastavino, although born in Valencia in 1842, developed his studios in Barcelona. In 1881 he emigrated to the US, accompanied by his son (also called Rafael, who over the years, also came to work hand in hand with his father), in the search for opportunities in the architectural sector, as he could find any in Spain, although he had already realized important projects like the La Massa Theatre in Vilassar de Dalt.
With over thousand designed projects, Guastavino left a significant mark in the United States, but it is New York where he still remains to be of great importance, as alone 300 of these projects are located in New York and open to the public today. Rafael Guastavino’s arrival in the city today known as “city of skyscrapers”, coincided with construction madness, owing to the industrialization and urbanization of distinct neighborhood and the fire problems caused by old wood constructions. Guastavino’s experience in using fire resistant tiles, formed an important part of his profound work during that time.
Guastavino, father and son, not only designed, but also researched architectural solutions, as is demonstrated by the 24 patents they obtained, between which the so called Akoustolith stands out most. Its porous material reduces echo, an important detail added to their projects characterized by high vaulted ceilings. Grand Central Terminal (whose Oyster Bar is one of their most famous works), Carnegie Hall, Saint Bartholomew Church, Saint John’s Cathedral, Manhattan Municipal Building on 1 Centre Street, are some of their most renowned projects in New York. Some of these, despite their value, have been demolished over the years. Until the creation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (1965) New York’s architectonical heritage lacked protection.
Through his projects in New York, the Valencian architect spread the so called “Guastavino system”, a reinterpretation of the famous Catalan vault (brick vault), a traditional structure from the Valencian and the Catalan region. These vault ceilings are made with bricks and cement, where its fire proof quality stems from. The exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York includes archive photos and contemporary pictures of his projects, technical drawings, components and architectural materials. The arrival of straight lines and modernism in the 50s, exemplified in the slim and cold skyscrapers and office buildings of that time, marked the end of the “Guastavino system”, which was reclaimed over the years and its value recognized by the exhibition that you can visit at the Museum of the City of New York until the 7 September.
For more information about Rafael Guastavino’s work, you might enjoy reading The Guastavino House – a little bit of Valencia in the USA.