Kevin T. Velez, Campus Carrier asst. arts & living editor

Berry students and staff created a model of Guastavino’s work over winter break at Hackberry Labs. The model can be found in the exhibit. Erika Becerra | Campus Carrier

Berry is hosting the “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces” at Oak Hill. The traveling exhibit will be open to students and visitors at Oak Hill from now until Oct. 23. 

The Guastavino Alliance is a fraternity of buildings that notable Spanish building designer Rafael Guastavino had significant involvement in. Notable buildings like the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the Boston Public Library and Biltmore Estate in North Carolina are members of the alliance. A new member of the alliance is the Ford Complex at Berry. 

Berry recently entered the alliance when admirers and followers of Rafael Guastavino’s work noticed that the blue ceiling vaults that makeup the archways of Ford heavily resembled Guastavino’s work. Further research proved that both Guastavino and his son, Rafael Guastavino Jr, had influenced and worked on the design of Ford’s unique vaulted ceilings when Berry staff discovered that the blueprints and designs used for Ford’s construction had Guastavino’s company name, the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company, at the bottom of the documents. 

The exhibit is hosted by different members of the alliance and contains informational writings about the history of Rafael Guastavino, including his life in Spain before immigrating to the United States with his son, and shows a sample of his numerous designs. The Journal of the American Institute of Architects credits hundreds of buildings to Guastavino’s notable design of arches and vaults in his projects. 

“More than 600 buildings in 36 states—including such iconic structures as Grand Central Terminal and the Washington National Cathedral—are known to contain the soaring arches, vaults, and staircases built with the distinctive lightweight, self-supporting, and virtually indestructible clay masonry tiles,” the magazine said. 

The characteristics of the buildings The Journal of the American Institute of Architects highlights are signature design of Guastavino’s. 

Interim Director and Curator for Oak Hill and The Martha Berry Museum, Rachel McLucas, elaborated that Martha Berry and the architect behind the Ford Complex included Guastavino’s company in an effort to minimalize any more fire risks, as the school had lost dorms and other structures to fires prior to Ford’s construction. 

“I love this story because it really shows how advanced Berry was at this moment,” McLucas said. 

Oak Hill includes other displays that relate specifically to Ford and Berry in the exhibit, such as a touchscreen display that gives visitors a virtual view of how the blueprint designs were originally drawn and what the final design looks like today. Along with the interactive display, Oak Hill staff worked with Berry students and faculty in Hackberry Labs to construct a model of Guastavino’s arch design using bricks instead of tiles. The model now rests comfortably in the middle of the exhibition room, surrounded by pieces of the traveling exhibit in Oak Hill. 

McLucas illustrates the significance of Guastavino’s design by highlighting its lasting beauty embedded in simplicity and functionality. She mentions that Guastavino’s designs were made to be functional and not costly, unlike the building practices of his time. By exposing the material used to create the ceiling, and not placing plaster over it, McLucas says Guastavino enhanced the design and lowered the cost of construction, this is what gave Guastavino’s designs a unique status in the architectural realm. 

“It’s a small facet of a building that has such a huge story behind it,” McLucas said. 

To get more information or get free tickets for the “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces” exhibit, visit Oak Hill’s website,

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