Behind the Design: How Unique Glass Blocks Were Created for Moneo Brock’s Seminal Thermal Baths

The Spanish firm collaborated with Seves to produce an entirely new kind of glass block.

Sydney Franklin Sydney Franklin

In line with our new content direction, Architizer is highlighting a different building-product and how to specify it. This week’s topic is Glass Block. If you’re looking for the perfect glass block for your next project, search for it on Architizer’s new network marketplace for building-products. Click here to see if you qualify. It’s free for architects.

It’s no secret that Seves dominates the world of glass blocks. A trusted source for over 50 years, the Italian company offers one of the most stunning lines of building-products on the market today. While the manufacturer’s undeniable authority in the architecture industry carries a lot of weight — as do their unique, flawless glass blocks — it’s the global projects designed by innovative architects that ground the legacy of their brand.

Termas de Tiberio in Panticosa, Spain, by Spanish firm Moneo Brock Studio, is a highly praised example of a contemporary construction completely outfitted in glass blocks. Though less than a decade old, it’s considered by many to be the best example of what Seves can do.

Located on the side of a snow-capped mountain in the Valle de Tena of Aragon, the 91,500-square-foot thermal bath and spa was designed as an architectural mediator between the site’s natural setting in the Pyrenees and its local urban context as part of the Balneario de Panticosa — a famous resort that attracts tourism to the area year round. The compact project is set between an existing church and a reconstructed hotel and features a series of curving walls created top-to-bottom in custom-made glass blocks.

These blocks are trapezoidal in section and acid-etched both inside and out in order to accentuate the curvilinear look of the façade, according to Moneo Brock. Each block overlaps with the one below, creating a shadow line that further emphasizes the planimetric bend of the structure’s watery form. Rather than including a cladding material that made the project look overly bold and bulky, the translucent glass blocks allow the building to graciously rest within its calm setting.

Section detailing the below-grade program of Termas de Tiberio

Even further, municipal zoning limits required many of the project’s facilities to be located underground, resulting in a complex interior program. Moneo Brock decided to capitalize on the abundant natural light and picturesque landscape by using the glass block envelope for its ability to filter diffused daylight.

The strategically placed windows along the façade also connect the interior spaces with intimate and expertly framed views of the outside world. Because of these design decisions, guests are given a carefully curated and tranquil wellness experience inside this thermal palace. The soft light fills up the facility during the daytime and the warm glow radiates throughout it at night.

“We have always striven that our project interiors enjoy abundant daylight,” said Jeff Brock, “and with this specific end have employed in our work not just glass, but various spectral and reflective materials to carry and color both electric and daylight. At the same time, we are always very wary of creating conditions of excessive glare and often use materials that diffuse and soften sunlight without ever flattening it.”

The firm was inspired by the work of the late Spanish architect Miguel Fisac, whose designs featured overlapping terra-cotta units put together in a clapboard-like fashion. This technique, both dramatic in aesthetic and function in terms of alleviating stormwater runoff, wasn’t easy for the team to pitch to manufacturers. It wasn’t until they spoke with Seves that they were able to specially develop the Panticosa Block, a 30-by-30-centimeter trapezoidal glass block with a 5-degree parallel incline.

Left: a wood mock-up of Seves’ Panticosa Block created in partnership with Moneo Brock Studio; right: the stunning finished product

The one-of-a-kind block includes a satin surface that facilitates widespread illumination in a massive interior. In total, 30,000 blocks were used in the construction of Termas de Tiberio. Seves offers this pioneering glass block design in other finishes as well as including a clear surface and a metallized version with each singular block weighing 16.5 pounds.

Moneo Brock and Seves created a custom mold for the glass blocks on Termas de Tiberio.

The world-renowned manufacturer continues to break the mold of traditional glass-block fabrication today. One way they do that is by staying in tune with architects and anticipating what inventive material they might need next. “Partnering with the architectural community is key to Seves’ success,” said Tony Kava, president of Seves. “Listening to the architect and understanding his vision and design objectives for our products, combined with our knowledge of the product and its capabilities, streamline the design process.”

Seves maintains a dedicated research and development department that tries to beat market trends and takes on projects similar to Moneo Brock’s proposal for new, nonstandard glass blocks. The company is consistently creating higher-performing products that fall in line with today’s requirements for energy savings, fire and impact resistance, reduced sound transmission as well as in-demand color treatments, 3-D surfaces and textures. One current industry trend they’re aggressively addressing is the desire for smaller format products and modularity, says Kava.

With decades spent developing the latest and greatest in glass-block manufacturing, Seves is an industry leader for a reason. Their beautiful blocks abound throughout the interiors and exteriors of buildings around the world, not just mountainous wellness retreats on the border of Spain and France. Glass blocks, while an incredibly valuable material for introducing stunning light into a space, are versatile and work well in numerous settings. No longer simply defining the outdated architecture of the American suburban mall, glass blocks can make for chic and sleek façades that may surprise — or en“light”en — you if you give them the chance.

All images and plans courtesy of Moneo Brock Studio

To find the perfect glass blocks for your next project, search on Source, Architizer’s new community marketplace for building-products. Click here to sign up now.