Find your eye fixed on the vaulted tile work of Grand Central's Oyster Bar, NYC's Bridgemarket, or City Hall's Subway Station?
It's all the work of architects, engineers, and designers Raphael Guastavino and son Raphael Guastavino, Jr., a father and son who immigrated from Valencia, Spain to the US in 1881, and are, in my mind, American originals.
They landed in the US with a recipe for fire-resistant structural tile work, capable of producing complex geometry and withstanding great loads with little thickness- think vaults four inches thick and spans as large as one hundred feet in diameter, seen at the Crossing of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Beyond the superficial, Guastavino tiles are rooted in geometry and structure, keen design and engineering, complete with a mixing of cultural and architectural expression. The technique of vault construction creates a material weave consisting of a three tile tier, sandwiched by plaster and Portland cement. The vaults strength is impressive in relation to its thickness.
The Guastavino's have many examples of work in public spaces throughout the country and worked in the company of McKim, Mead, and White, as well as Robert Morris Hunt, although have stayed shy of weighty recognition in the architectural history books, perhaps because they're viewed as the consultant or contractor, despite their design input and architect status.
However, the Guastavino character is slowly on the rise, inching its way into contemporary dialogue, whether through slideshows on Architectural Digest or mentions in Bloomberg or through the research of MIT professor John Ochsendorf (great lecture video) and inclusion in the Avery Architectural Archives at Columbia University.
In addition, this website talks about Raphael Jr's experiments and interest in lustre glazes, which reaches into the historic tiles and pottery of the Persian and Moorish traditions.