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March 16, 2004 7:25 AM CST

Architects are Rediscovering Glass Block

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Take one look and you'll say you've seen the light. It's in the boardroom. It's in the basement. It's in the largest of factories and the smallest of diners. The "it" is glass block, and ? Hallelujah! ? it is beautiful! Stronger than sheet glass, more alive than dry wall, glass block is the perfect material for bringing natural light into windowless rooms.

Originally developed in the early 1900s, glass block was first used in manufacturing plants for brightening up the interior with natural light while providing durability and insulation. Toward mid-century, block usage expanded into neighborhood bars and the basement windows of both residential and commercial buildings.

Then in the last quarter of the century, an army of architects discovered glass block's versatility. They found they could turn radiuses with it, light stairwells and turn curves. Today, special shapes allow the softening touches of bullnose and the drama of staircasing. Colored mortars provide other layers of texture to designs. With all of the modern refinements to glass block, the creative possibilities are nearly endless, all to the delight of the client.

But glass block's resurgence is built on more than just the material's good looks. Energy efficient, block can be fire-rated up to 90 minutes. And unlike sheet glass, block offers extremely high durability so that it can be impacted without breaking.

One recent trend is to design boardroom walls with glass block where it provides a texture that dry wall can't approach. Most importantly, block's opacity and sound deadening qualities furnish the privacy that is so vital in a boardroom setting.

In recent years, manufacturers like Pittsburgh Corning have been creating block units that contain patterns that affect light transmission as well as aesthetics. These modular units further expand the architect's palette so that each creation can be a truly custom product.

Glass block is the specialty of Masonry & Glass Systems in St. Louis. The company was founded in 1978 by Fred Daues, the fourth generation of his family to work in the masonry business. Since moving into block, Daues has added units in Kansas City, Houston and San Antonio. Like the St. Louis store, all feature Pittsburgh Corning glass block products. In addition to providing individual glass block units, they will also fabricate panels and install the block.

Daues says that architects are driving the glass business. With all the flexibility and versatility glass block offers, we expect they will drive it a long way.


About the Author

Jeff Klayman is the Managing Editor of Masonry Institute of St. Louis Publications.

Reprinted with permission. Copyright ? 2003 Masonry Institute of St. Louis.

 

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