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Museum Gives Kids Hands-On Lesson On New York City’s Architectural Treasures

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — They are all around us – majestic arches and domes gracing some of the city’s best-known landmarks.

And as CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday, children are now learning about the science behind the architectural features by rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty making their own.

“It took me like two minutes just to put one piece of brick in one spot,” said Alex Barrett, 11. He said he expected a whole dome would take two years.

The lesson came courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York, which is now showcasing the work of Rafael Guastavino (1842-1908.) He and his son, Rafael Jr. (1872-1950) came from Spain in the 19th Century, and brought with them the artistry and engineering of Barcelona.

“Ancient techniques from the Mediterranean about how to use tiles in construction projects, and they developed an engineering breakthrough that enabled them to make some of the great public spaces in New York City,” said museum chief curator Sarah Henry.

More than 250 stunning vaulted ceilings and arches in New York are works of the Guastivinos. Among them are Grand Central Terminal, the Queensboro Bridgemarket, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the Bronx Zoo elephant house, the Prospect Park boathouse and tennis shelter, and the now-closed City Hall Subway station.

Brick by brick, tile by tile, they became modern marvels — bearing the weight of big buildings. They are now considered treasures hidden in plain sight.

“Sot some of the most grand places of the early 20th century are a product of this company, and so many people have never heard their name,” Henry said.

To honor Gaustivino, the city’s masons have been teaching little hands how to become budding engineers by mixing mortar and crowning an arch with a keystone.

“Each brick that goes into a wall; each stone that goes into a wall is touched by human hands, and it’s always been that way I think it will continue to be that way,” said Jeremiah Sullivan, president of the Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.

The exhibit, called Palaces for the People, runs through Sept. 7 here at the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibit also features some never before seen architectural drawings of some of New York’s soaring ceilings.

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