Federal Grant Will Fund Exhibition on Visionary Architect at the Boston Public Library
Guastavino transformed American architecture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
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For Immediate Release
August 31, 2011
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BOSTON — August 31, 2011 — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Boston Public Library, and their partners were recently awarded a federal grant to draw attention to an innovative builder and visionary architect whose work still attracts the eye of visitors to the Central Library in Copley Square and other public spaces.

Vaulted ceilings, which are considered structural and aesthetic marvels, dot the landscape of the United States because of the farsightedness and imagination of Spanish immigrant builder Rafael Guastavino (1842–1908). His thoughtful design of public spaces transformed American architecture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will administer the $350,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant to mount a traveling exhibition which will include historic drawings, photographs, and objects along with contemporary photographs of Guastavino ceilings. A website dedicated to Guastavino will support and expand the reach of the project.

The exhibition will originate at the Boston Public Library in 2012 before moving to the National Building Museum in Washington, DC, and the Museum of the City of New York.

Guastavino and his family invented a colorful tiling that is lightweight, attractive, fireproof, and virtually indestructible. Excellent examples of his work grace buildings in 40 states. Examples include the Grand Central Terminal in New York City, the United Stated Supreme Court Building, and the Nebraska State Capitol. Guastavino used his extraordinary gift to elevate public spaces including transportation centers, government centers, libraries, and churches.

Millions of people pass through and marvel at these magnificent structures, but few know that a family of Spanish immigrants helped to create these great spaces. John Ochsendorf, Associate Professor of Building Technology in the School of Architecture + Planning at MIT and the author of Guastavino Vaulting: The Art of Structural Tile, has spearheaded the efforts to create a tribute to Guastavino’s work and will be integral in realizing his vision as plans for the exhibition move forward. “One of the aims of the project is to encourage visitors to continue to look up in beautiful spaces with the hopes of identifying more Guastavino creations,” said Ochsendorf.

Rafael Guastavino’s first major project in the United States was the Boston Public Library. It was a mere eight years after he arrived in New York City from Spain in 1881 that he took on the assignment of collaborating with architect Charles McKim. The delicately patterned vaulted ceilings that greet visitors to the McKim Building have led many to call the Boston Public Library Guastavino’s seminal work. (Embedded image 1: Entrance Hall mosaic ceiling at the Boston Public Library during construction, circa 1890.)

“Rafael Guastavino’s work is integral to the design of the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building in Copley Square [image from BPL Flickr Collection], and his architectural contributions are genuine works of art. We are delighted to partner with MIT in highlighting the library’s vaulted ceilings along with other Guastavino creations from around the world,” said Amy E. Ryan, President of the Boston Public Library.

About the MIT School of Architecture + Planning
The School of Architecture + Planning is one of five schools at MIT and comprises five divisions – the Department of Architecture, the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, the Media Lab, the Center for Real Estate and the Program in Art, Culture, and Technology. The Department of Architecture was the first such department in the nation (1865) and became a leader in introducing Modernism to America. Today, it continues a long tradition of individualized instruction, offering both degree-granting and non-degree granting programs at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. The department's setting within MIT permits particular depth in such technical areas as computation, new modes of design and production, materials, structure and energy, as well as in the arts, humanities and social studies. To learn more, visit sap.mit.edu.

The National Endowment for the Humanities offers the prestigious America’s Historical and Cultural Organizations: Planning and Implementation Grants to support museum exhibitions, library-based projects, interpretation of historic places or areas, websites, and other project formats that excite and inform about America’s history and culture.

For more than 160 years, the Boston Public Library has pioneered public library service in America. Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library was the first publicly supported municipal library in America, the first public library to lend books, the first to have a branch library, and the first to have a children’s room. Today, the Boston Public Library has twenty-seven neighborhood locations, including the Central Library in Copley Square. Each year, the Boston Public Library hosts nearly 12,000 programs, answers more than one million reference questions, and serves millions of people. All of its programs and exhibitions are free and open to the public. At the Boston Public Library, books are just the beginning. To learn more, visit www.bpl.org.

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