Column: The rise and fall of Guastavino tile


About 600 buildings in the United States, including 200 in New York, 29 in Boston, 22 in Washington and 7 in Rhode Island, feature a tile vault system perfected by a native of Valencia, Spain, brought by him to America in the 1880s, and rubbed out by modernism in the 1950s and ’60s.

Rafael Guastavino Sr. (1842-1908) rediscovered a Mediterranean tiling and vaulting technique that reaches back to ancient Rome.

His innovative tile work resolved the difficulties of large domes and vaulted structures. Once in America, where he immigrated with son Rafael Jr. in 1881, he developed the decorative possibilities of his technique. His firm dominated the field for half a century. In the end, however, Guastavino vaulting fell prey to modernism, as architects and builders spurned ornament, even utilitarian ornament.

Read the rest of this column at the Providence Journal.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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