My colleague Petra loves glass block. Ok, full disclosure, I don’t hate it. I love glass block when it’s used in a clean façade of a building against a backdrop of white stucco, and with an interior space that’s minimal and strategic. The play of light and shadow on a clean backdrop of a wall is to be celebrated. Just watch Agatha Christie’s Poirot for glass block that is on point and in context.
It has its advantages. It’s inexpensive (kind of), it can be easy to install and it provides limited privacy. Most importantly, it lets in glorious, beautiful natural light that is refracted into an interior space through the inherent patterning of the glass. What’s not to like about that you ask?
In my opinion, these qualities do not redeem its ugliness when used out of context.
Although glass block can provide access to natural light while covering up an unsightly wall or exterior view, there are many more effective ways to do this, like installing an operable window, or a sliding or overhead door. If that is out of the question, work with your neighbour to beautify your view: paint a mural, build a community garden wall, hire a graffiti artist if you wish to celebrate an urban landscape and your neighbourhood. Chances are if you could haul away the unsightliness, you would. If you can’t, make lemonade out of lemons. But, please don’t hide away from humanity and context – embrace it.
Glass block imposes an inherent grid pattern obstructing the view and casts a gridded and mottled pattern into the interior space. It can limit you to embrace the shadow cast as the main event. As a designer, nothing drives me crazy more than when a door or small window is removed to be filled with glass block, or worse, like when an original stained-glass window is replaced with glass block.
If I’m being honest, glass block is not the issue. The issue is in its application. Glass block has become a tragic victim that I cannot continue to blame. When it comes to glass block, and all good design, there is a need for knowledge and advocacy.