Design we love – Guastavino

Great design never goes out of style, a prime example is the work of Rafael Guastavino, (and his son Rafael Guastavino y Esposito) the Spanish architect and builder who immigrated to the United States in 1881. Guastavino patented a special tiling system that appears in a huge number of architecturally important and famous buildings around the country.

Albany Education Building, Albany, NY
Albany Education Building, Albany, NY

“In Spain, Guastavino revived an ancient form of tile and mortar building that had been used for centuries. This technique, called the boveda catalana, or Catalan vault, featured long flat tiles placed in layers held together by a mixture of Portland cement and cow bay sand. The technique was also known as “timbrel” vaulting, a term that suggested the membrane of a timbrel, an old percussion instrument similar to a tambourine.

Though the tiles were light, their placement enabled them to withstand a great deal of weight, resulting in self-supporting arches. The strength of the vaults and arches came from a curved geometry held in a state of monolithic cohesion. The sturdiness of Guastavino’s structures has often been compared to the natural strength of eggshells. The style was both visually striking and practical: Not only were the structures strong, they were fireproof. These curved surfaces became his personal trademark.”

His elegant vaulted ceilings, spiral staircases, illustrated domes and decorative courseways grace over 1000 buildings on the U.S. National Historic Register including: the Boston Public Library, Ellis Island, the New York City Subway Stations, the Oyster Bar, St. Bartholomew and St. Thomas in New York City and the Duke University Chapel in Durham, North Carolina.

In 1900 Rafael Guastavino opened a factory that manufactured his patented tile in Woburn Massachusettes and it just so happens that a certain construction manager we know is now headquartered in that historic building. Everyday Tocci employees enjoy working in a space that inspires us with its rich architectural history.

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  1. Guastavino’s home, which he built himself in 1912, in Bay Shore, NY is for sale 10/09, listed on the Sothebys Daniel Gale web site. Its got incredible vaulted ceilings!

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