Year Round Glitter
By: Rita Heck
All that glitters during the holidays is not just tinsel, tree lights and candles. In some trendy homes glass block is twinkling with filtered outside light, inside privacy and security and sustainability all year round. Bercy Chen Studio, based in Austin with offices in Los Angeles, Taiwan, China and Mexico, designed their ultra sustainable Austin Beverly Skyline residence to transfer light inside-out with glass and glass block inspired by their European/Asian backgrounds.
“Ever since Pierre Chareau built the Maison de Verr in Paris in 1928, architects have been smitten with the use of glass block as a monolithic expression. This home (Beverly Skyline) uses glass block along a wall facing a hillside for a faceted texture, light, solidity and translucency. Just the right amount of wood and nature complement the palette, and the effect is beautiful,” explained Thomas Bercy.
Taking advantage of use/reuse, Bercy Chen salvaged 600 glass blocks from a demolished hospital, and included a roof dam for rainwater collection with a balance tank to help manage water levels. Steel frame fabricated off-site was hoisted in place to minimize construction time and waste and provide additional shade, condensation from air conditioning units runs to a reflection pool, and gardens are completely xeriscaped.
Glass Block Walls
Innovative Building Products Fort Worth recently completed two Coach retail stores (one at Dallas International Airport and their flagship store on New York’s Fifth Avenue) with glass block exteriors that light up the interiors.
“Glass block is making a comeback both for residential and commercial exterior and interior projects because of improved insulation, color and pattern options and its ability to bring in light without sacrificing privacy,” said Steve Weddle, national sales manager, Innovative Building Products. ”We’re hoping to see more designers create more glass block projects that are energy efficient and beautiful,” he added.
More than twenty years ago, I personally designed glass block back splashes for my corner kitchen which still reflects twinkly light day and night. Glass block windows in the bathroom and a bubble patterned shower enclosure have been a blessing – lots of filtered light and easy maintenance.
Fred Daues, manager of Masonry & Glass Systems headquartered in St. Louis with outlets in Houston and San Antonio, has witnessed the love/hate history of glass block.
“Glass block has been in for commercial projects and is slowly making a comeback in residential windows and showers. More creative uses (skylights, floors, interior walls) are still in the works.” Dates said. “With more colors, patterns, sizes and shapes, Seves, our European supplier, is now offering their patented Energy Saving block that reduces thermal transmittance of the classic glass block up to 50% allowing architectural facades to offer energy conservation that safeguards the environment.”
Glass Block Future
Pittsburg Corning is formerly a major glass block producer in the US. The company has discontinued its production, even after investigating the possibilities of adding solar features between the two hollow layers that form the system. Modern innovations can also include filling the blocks argon gas to increase their heat resistance value.
For architects and designers, glass block is becoming a more interesting option — an attractive product to transfer light, offer security and privacy, easy to maintain, and durable. Something to think about for your new/rehab projects.
Glitter and glitz are the trademarks of the holiday season with lights, ornaments and decor brightening the day. But once the holidays are over, so is the glamour – unless you have glass block in your life. This late 1800’s German discovery presented a building product option that could literally light up your life bringing daylight into a building and at the same time cutting down on heat and sound transfer.
This late-1800’s German discovery presented a building product option that could literally light up your life: bringing daylight into a building while, at the same time, cutting down on heat and sound transfer.
In the late 90’s, when I built my house in back of Hemisfair, I included glass block back splashes, windows and showers that have withstood the strains of time: easy to maintain, energy savings and a glitter that only improves as daylight moves on.