Beautiful arches, like the art deco skeletal system of a lost urban era, can be found throughout New York City, from Grand Central Terminal to bars and restaurants. Created with tiles by the Spanish father-and-son duo, Rafael Guastavino and his junior namesake, these structures were also marvels of artistic engineering, combining intricate brickwork with functional arrays of vaults and pillars, all leading to a kind of Mediterranean dreamworld of colonnades “hidden in plain sight,” as a new exhibition suggests, around the city.
Indeed, in some cases, these extraordinary arches form almost entirely unnoticed and even somewhat surreal ceilings for such mundane facilities as supermarkets and zoos.
The largest dome created by the Guastavino Company was over the central crossing for the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Manhattan: it is 100 ft (30 m) in diameter and 160 feet (49 m) high. This dome was intended to be a temporary structure, to be replaced by a high central tower. In 2009 this "temporary" fix celebrated the 100th anniversary of its construction. In large part, Guastavino received this contract due to the much lower price he could quote because his system served as its own scaffolding. This was an extreme test of his system, however. The masons had to work from above, each day adding a few rows of tiles, and standing on the previous day's work to progress. At the edges, many layers of tile were laid, and the dome thins as it rises toward the center.