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An Architect’s Guide To: Glass Block

Look through the layers of modern glass block construction.

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While glass block may have once conjured up imagery of a bygone era, today, it is the comeback kid. Not only does it expertly introduce natural light into interior spaces, but it is beautiful, versatile and incredibly effective as an thermal insulation tool. So, when is it an appropriate material choice? Including alongside traditional windows and doors, as a durable flooring choice or a construction approach aimed at achieving LEED certification, the applications are endless. So take this as affirmation: Glass block is back and better than ever.

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Primers

Left: Academy of Arts by Wiel Arets built in 1993; middle: the 2001 Maison Hermès in Tokyo by Renzo Piano Building Workshop, via Wikipedia; right: Deusto Library in Bilbao by Rafael Moneo built in 2008

How to Specify: Glass Block

“The traditional glass block is not a solid block of glass, but is actually a square block with two glass faces and a mostly hollow interior. Those glass faces can be textured, patterned, frosted, colored or clear. Colored materials can also be added to the middle of the block to create more visual effects. Non-square models are available, too; rectangular blocks can be stacked like bricks, circular blocks can be embedded in a floor or ceiling and trapezoidal units create a shingle-like effect when stacked.” Check out the full story here.

Dumas + Horatio by Central de Arquitectura

How to Detail Windows Within Glass Block Constructions

“One classic issue architects face when detailing glass block constructions is how to incorporate a window or door — any opening really — within a tight installation. While glass blocks bring diffused light into a space and are utilized for their high thermal insulation values, window openings are sometimes incorporated to break up the monotony of the block pattern itself and permit an influx of natural air and direct light.” Check out the full story here.

Liège-Guillemins Railway Station by Santiago Calatrava; image via L’Echo

How to Detail the Perfect Glass-Block Floor

“Glass block is most commonly used to make transparent or translucent walls, but it’s a great way to let light through floors, too. Glass-block floors may not be especially cheap, but they are extremely strong and scratch-resistant and can easily be made translucent to prevent any awkward views from below. Blocks used in flooring are different from those used in walls. They are found by searching for glass pavers, and they can be either double-sided like a traditional block, or they can be single-sided, which results in a smooth top surface and an irregular bottom.” Check out the full story here.

Inspiration

Back in Style: 6 Glowing Glass Block Façades

“Unfortunately, for many people, just the mention of glass block is enough to send shudders down their spine. It often conjures up memories of a bygone era, when popcorn ceilings and shag carpeted bathrooms were all the rage. Recently, however, this misunderstood material has been making a comeback, as innovations in the manufacturing and installation of glass blocks have made them more versatile than ever before.” Check out the full story here.

Case Studies

Architectural Details: Triptyque Architecture’s Stunning Glass-Block Façade

“With Leitão_653, the courageous specification of glass blocks formed the basis for a light-filled layout within an unusually lengthy construction. Two-thirds of the building can be seen over the low-lying nearby architecture, which, in turn, allows direct light to shine into the building via the north façade. This diffused light is considered ideal by architects because it creates a soft and consistent glow for users to work in while also maximizing solar heat gain.” Check out the full story here.

Left: Seves’ Photovoltaic glass block captures daylight in order to power LED bulbs at night, image via Seves Glass Block; right: with Solar Squared, glass blocks could convert the sun’s energy into electricity; via University of Exeter

How to Leverage Glass Block Construction to Achieve LEED Certification

“Glass block is back and beautiful as ever. However, given today’s climate, it is important that in celebrating its resurgence, we simultaneously investigate its potential as an environmentally sustainable material choice. Remember, beauty is nothing without brains. Fortunately, glass block and its dynamic relationship with light gives architects the opportunity to create both aesthetically pleasing and energy-efficient spaces.” Check out the full story here.

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

“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.” Check out the full story here.

Architectural Details: Wiel Arets’ Jeweled Academy of Art & Architecture

“Dating back to 1993, the Maastricht Academy of Art & Architecture is an exemplar of how the Dutch do glass-block buildings. While the near-14,000-square-foot facility is getting up there in age, to this day, it still sets the stage as inspiration for more modern uses of the diaphanous material. The design may have come out of the late 1980s, but its detailing and aesthetic is still relevant today — just as you’d hope for in a building that houses the study of iconic architecture and art. Read on for some compelling inspiration as you consider specifying glass block for your next project.” Check out the full story here.

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Having a nightmare specifying the ideal glass block product for your latest project? Save time, money and your sanity by searching on Architizer’s community marketplace for building-products. Click here for more information.