Nice Projects Made out of Glass Bricks

Glass as an architectural element has always rendered a structure with a certain opulence, one that not only shows off an innovative design element but also highlights the potential of the medium. Apart from acting as fenestrations upon the structure’s facade, glass has also been used in different ways for the purpose of insulation, or noise cancellation, or as plastic laminates to explore structural possibilities. The dimension it adds to the design, structure and aesthetic of a building is unparalleled. There are only a handful of materials that can boast of having such a dramatic effect on the look of a building.

Across the world, glass bricks have replaced traditional facades. Famous architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright used glass bricks to test the power of refraction.

Glass blocks or bricks first came into prominence when, at the beginning of the 20th century, the material was installed in factories in order to provide more natural  light for the workers.

The material was soon incorporated by designers and architects across the world and became prominent features of some of the most popular movements such as art deco, wherein the aesthetics of the 1920s was readapted in the 1980s. Infamously, glass bricks also became symbolic of the over-the-top neon-light retro style of that period, and, even now, is reminiscent of the inimitable yet tacky facades.

Some of the most famous glass-brick buildings have been constructed in cities such as Amsterdam, Tokyo and Zurich. While some of the structures that have incorporated glass blocks are traditional maisons — which are lessons in elegant opulence reminiscent of the era — some of them belong to the contemporary world, especially conceptual, commercial spaces that were built to exhibit innovation in traditional methods. In the West, especially, glass bricks were a crucial part of the avant-garde architectural movement, especially with the establishment of iconic glass-making companies such as the Owens-Illinois Glass Company, or the Pittsburgh Corning Corporation.

Let’s look at the prominent structures across the world that have employed glass bricks to its optimal and aesthetical capacity:

Chanel Store, Amsterdam

When design firm MVRDV — founded in 1993 by Winy Maas, Nathalie de Vries and Jacob van Rijs in Rotterdam, the Netherlands — were tasked with laying out the plan for luxury brand Chanel’s flagship store in Amsterdam, they decided to do away with its original bricks-and-mortar construction and use the one material that has the potential to imitate the original texture, yet with a different outcome.

Located on PC Hooftstraat — a street that is famous for accommodating international brands in the city — the store was christened ‘Crystal Houses’ for a reason. Like the name implies, the structure is a confluence of traditional Dutch architecture and a truly international design sensibility.

Glass bricks were layered on top of each other not just to imitate the bricked walls, but also to construct windows and doors out of them. Interestingly, the glass bricks merge seamlessly with the rest of the architecture of the district and is an intriguing lesson in merging a conventional design with new, cutting-edge materials.

Maison de Verre, Paris

Located in Paris, France, this breathtaking structure was conceptualized by Parisian architects Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet in 1932, where they translated the idea of “House of Glass” through an industrial approach to the traditional architectural style. The glass bricks cover up a primarily steel construction, that runs through the structure like veins. The result — a floorplan that introduces the sturdiness of steel, interspersed with glass and glass blocks.

A beautiful combination of the fragile and robust, the Maison de Verre is a lesson in division of spaces wherein the doors are sliding or rotating, or even folding — albeit, all in glass. This structure is considered a major departure point of modernist architecture in the 20th century.

Maison Hermes, Tokyo

In 2001, the grand, translucent marvel called Maison Hermes was erected by the famous architect Renzo Piano. Sitting right at the center of the commercial district of Ginza. Spread across 6,000 square meters, the structure accommodates a whopping 15 floors. The drawing point of the structure: it is made up of about 13,000 glass blocks.

Maison Hermes’ Tokyo store is a riveting vision — imagine the stars illuminating the space at night, and an inundating light washing down in broad daylight. It is perhaps for this reason that the structure is also called “the magic lantern”.

Renzo Piano employed the famous glass company Seves Glassblock for the purpose of providing glass for the project. The involvement meant that the company takes its role up a notch and created an experimental type of material that has a curved external surface, while keeping the internal surface absolutely smooth. The arrangement of the glass blocks in adjacent order also meant that any skeletal steel foundations are out of sight. This sophistication in details truly marks this structure out as a contemporary classic.

Villa Stenersen, Oslo

Villa Stenersen, Oslo

Image: Public Domain, Bjoertvedt, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Villa Stenersen, designed by famous architect Arne Korsmo, is the best example of glass bricks in the style of Norwegian modernism. This residence, created between 1937 and 1939 for art collector and financier Rolf E Stenersen, is also one of his best works.

At the time when functionalism was a byword in the architecture circle of Norway, Arne Korsmo decided to take up that form and render it in the form of Villa Stenersen. While flat roof and concrete facades are mainstays of Norwegian functionalism, Arne Korsmo brought in glass bricks to create the facade, allowing for oodles of natural light during daytime. At night, the house literally glows with the illuminated fireplace.

Since glass is the best medium to interpret space and giving it the illusion of more space than there is, Arne Korsmo ensured that the effect is more nuanced and intense by inserting 625 glass cylinders on the roof. The overall impact is a powerful statement of light and space.

Optical Glass House, Hiroshima

Japanese architect Hiroshi Nakamura created a luminous glass house for in Hiroshima, which started off as the quintessential private oasis for a private owner in the middle of downtown of the city, which is inundated with the sounds and sights of moving traffic.  The house employs about 6,000 glass bricks that were custom made especially for the two-story-high house. A significant detail in this structure is that all the glass blocks are bolted together.

As is expected from the material, the glass material allows for natural light to flood in, along with letting the skylight to open up and create an illusion of seamlessness. Japan’s issue of space crunch finds an immediate solution with glass bricks, wherein one gets a spatial experience in the thick of an urban jungle.

Interestingly, Hiroshi Nakamura trained under the influential architect Kengo Kuma, who, himself, is known for creating severely minimalistic aesthetics.

Byredo, New York

When the Swede fragrance brand Byredo decided to open a store in the chic SoHo neighborhood, they decided to bring in the intangibility of their aromas into the concept of a glass house — quite like their own bottled marvels! And architect Ben Gorham decided to take this concept and execute in a minimalist, modernist manner.

A space that has also been termed as a laboratory, the Byredo store comes with simple materials, accentuated with glass blocks, which forms the interiors. Interspersed with Italian terrazzo, this seemingly glass cube is a spectacular experimentation with glass. Byredo is essentially what happens when high concept comes together with high material.

Ronald Reagan National Airport, Arlington

Intended as a gateway to the national capital, the Ronald Reagan National Airport comes with an array of architectural characteristics, and one of them is the glass blocks, truly reminiscent of Streamline Moderne movement. This 19th-century iron and glass structure is a classic example when traditional architecture comes together with an innovative medium.

Conclusion

Glass blocks or bricks have had a roller-coaster journey through the aegis of architecture. While the 80s blew it out of proportion, one also saw the medium enhance the beauty of the structure. The material has been on the black books of many renowned designers and architects primarily for its economical performance, as well as establishing a spatial relationship, which is a luxury in cities such as New York and Tokyo.

Interestingly, cities such as Amsterdam have been able to integrate the medium with their traditional architecture, paving the way for experiments and breakthroughs in contemporary architecture. Its potential to illuminate any kind of space is only a departure point that plays with translucence and natural light.

Architect Raymond Hood, who is known for his art deco works, once called the medium the “architecture of the night”. Sure enough, a material that thrives in its ability to shift the dynamics of a space is a lesson in innovation and experimentation.

Featured Image: CC by 2.0, by Andreas Adelmann, via Flickr

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