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Great Decor Comebacks: Glass Bricks

Love it or hate it, the humble glass brick – a darling of ‘80s architecture before being branded cringingly passé – is back

By House & Garden South Africa | June 22, 2022 | Architecture

From Hero to Zero… To Hero?

Glass bricks have been at the forefront of many architectural masterpieces throughout the years: Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet’s iconic 1928 Maison de Verre and, more recently, Renzo Piano’s Maison Hermès in Tokyo. Although these buildings depict glass bricks in their most exquisite form, its legacy has been difficult to reimagine as anything more than an outdated leftover from the ‘80s — or so we thought.

Refraction House Exterior by RAD+ar, Indonesia. Photography by William Sutanto

Glass bricks have come a long way since their days of being de rigueur in dimly-lit shopping malls and guava-coloured, carpeted bathrooms. Contemporary architects and designers are now using this nostalgic, architectural element in increasingly creative and modern ways to provide a distinct visual interest to a space that's alluring in both form and function.

From accent walls in residential properties to large-scale urban façades, glass bricks are being used to explore innovative ways to push the boundaries of glass and light — and considering that their properties fit in perfectly with modern architectural design elements — it was only a matter of time before they made a comeback.

Glass Blocks Duplex, Israel by Tal Goldsmith Fish Design Studio. Photography by Amit Geron

How They’re Being Used Today

The use of glass bricks in a space offers transparency and openness, two things that have become design necessities as the world moves towards brighter and more open homes. Not to mention, the fascinating way a grid of glass bricks can illuminate an area by manipulating natural light in a filtered, indirect way.

Glass Art Gallery, Japan by Jun Murata. Photography by Jun Murata

It turns out that it was actually pretty simple to make this architectural element cool again: all you had to do was give them a little update and replace everything around them with more modern (and less cringeworthy) design choices and materials. Nowadays, we see the once-dated material being crafted in a range of different, and often sleeker, patterns, sizes and tones that glass brick pioneers in the ‘30s could only dream of.

They are also being used in a more minimal setting, alongside natural materials like wood or stone, or surrounded by plants. Accent walls manage to create a flow between spaces while still retaining structural elements in the room.

Buckle Street Studios Exterior, UK by Grzywinski+Pons. Photography by Nicholas Worley

Versatility In The Modern World

There’s an innate sense of order with a glass brick wall or window. Its rigidity provides a sense of consistency and discipline to a space, which is then beautifully contrasted by its translucency and soft lighting. This interesting juxtaposition gives glass bricks the versatility to be included in a variety of different interior design styles and in a variety of different settings: a room divider, a statement wall, a skylight or, of course, as a means of maintaining privacy in the bathroom. Their influence has also inspired designers and artists to create statement pieces, like Lee Broom’s Chant Chandelier for example.

Glass bricks have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, as trends often do. But with minimal design and transparency at its peak, there’s never been a better opportunity for glass bricks to reclaim the crown as the zeitgeist of the design world once again.

Words by Shai Rama

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