Guastavino shaped a new democratic architecture at Boston library

From our review of “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces” at the Boston Public Library:

The old wing of the Boston Public Library’s Copley Square Branch, the 1895 McKim Building, represents one of the last great buildings of its breed. It arrived as construction of major buildings was shifting to steel. The metal allowed structures to span great distances under heavy loads, but to appear light and airy. So it became one of signature materials of modern architecture, birthing the towering skyscrapers and bridges of the past century and a half.

But the McKim Building rose at the turn of the 20th century, in an era of transition. Its designers signaled its cultural aspirations by looking back to old Europe for signature aspects of its design, particularly the dramatic vaulting seemingly woven out of ceramic tiles throughout the first floor.

This method and its maker are the focus of an illuminating architecture exhibit “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces,” organized by John Ochsendorf, a professor of architecture and engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The building was Rafael Guastavino Sr.’s first major commission in the United States. Its success—the building is now a National Historic Landmark—powered the rest of his career.

Read the rest here.

“Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces,” Boston Public Library’s Copley Square Branch, 700 Boylston St., Boston, Sept. 28, 2012, to Feb. 24, 2013.

Pictured at top: Rafael Guastavino Sr. (right) stands atop a newly erected arch as the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building was being constructed in 1889. Below: The vaulted entrance hall built by Rafael Guastavino Sr. in the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building. (Photo by Michael Freeman/ Courtesy of the Boston Public Library.)

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