Exploring Rafael Guastavino’s local Spanish Renaissance Revival architecture

See the structures he created and how you can learn more about the architect’s work.

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Take in this bird’s eye view of the Basilica of St. Lawrence.

Photo by @overasheville

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Let’s take it back to 1881 — that’s when Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino immigrated to the US to introduce his trademark tilework, creating landmarks all across the country. And we’re lucky enough to have several designs and structures created by the architect right here in Asheville.

Guastavino’s Asheville architecture

Guastavino made his way here in the early 1890s to work on the Biltmore Estate, where he contributed his signature tile vaulting (aka self-supporting arched ceiling) to several areas of the house. You can marvel at his geometric tiling on the ceilings surrounding the Winter Garden and in the estate’s indoor swimming pool in the basement.

Guastavino settled in Black Mountain in the mid-1890s and constructed his own Spanish-style estate, Rhododendron. In the 1940s, the house caught fire and, by the end of the decade, was ultimately torn down after being acquired by the now conference center and retreat, Christmount. You can take a self-guided or guided tour of the remains of the building to learn about how the estate looked and functioned when it was in its heyday.

The architect’s most notable local project, the Basilica of Saint Lawrence, was also his final project. The structure is the only basilica in all of WNC and strictly uses tile and other similar materials — no wood or steel here. To admire the building in person, you can take self-guided tours, offered Mondays-Thursdays.


Look for Guastavino’s tiling in Biltmore’s indoor pool.

Photo by Warren LeMay, via Wikimedia Commons

Learn more

Dive deeper into the life and work of the iconic architect at the “Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces” exhibit inside the newly opened Asheville Museum of History.

Curated by MIT Professor of Architecture John Ochsendorf, the exhibit outlines the timeline of the buildings designed and raised by Guastavino as well as the projects finished by his son, Rafael Jr., who carried on the Guastavino Company after his father’s death in 1908. Plus, you can see tiles, bricks, and other artifacts from the architect’s projects.

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