PALACES FOR THE PEOPLE: GUASTAVINO AND AMERICA’S GREAT PUBLIC SPACES

by chrysanthe b. broikos, curator

This year, tens of thousands of Museum visitors learned the story of one unique family of builders and their immeasurable influence on our heritage. Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces tells the story of an immigrant from Spain that ingeniously adapted centuries-old vault-building methods to the construction demands of late nineteenth century America. The structures were incomparably strong, practically fireproof, and aesthetically beautiful. Buildings that feature Guastavino vaults around the United States include: New York’s Grand Central Terminal, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Boston Public Library, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Nebraska State Capitol.

In addition to welcoming more than 25,000 visitors to the exhibition, we found a variety of additional opportunities to highlight the Guastavinos’ incredible story. MacArthur Fellow and MIT professor John Ochsendorf, the exhibition’s organizer, gave a talk about the Guastavinos’ significant contributions to building and engineering. In the summer, we welcomed NPR’s Susan Stamberg to tour the exhibition and accompany John on a tour of some of the Guastavinos’ structures found here in Washington, D.C., including a local fire station and the Supreme Court. We offered a companion publication to the exhibition in the Museum Shop, featuring colorful new images of the Guastavino’s most important work by photographer Michael Freeman.

If you’d like to learn more about the Guastavinos, visit the exhibition website palacesforthepeople.com. You’ll find stories, upcoming dates for the traveling exhibition and related events, and more resources on how to find their structures.

600
Known structures still standing built by the Guastavino Company

 

Guastavino-Sr-Portrait

 

1
1/2 scale model of Boston Public Library ceiling vaults on display in the exhibition

Image: Rafael Guastavino Sr. about 1880. Guastavino/Collins Collection, Avery Library.