Track 2: Materials over Time: Points of Change
APT Student Scholar Abstract
3 - Mid-Century Glass Block: The Colored, Patterned, and Textured Era
Monday, September 24
2:45 PM - 4:15 PM
Location: BNCC- 101BG
Anne Sullivan, Program Director, M.S. Historic Preservation – The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The Owens-Illinois Corporation (OI) and the Pittsburgh Corning Corporation (PC) manufactured glass blocks between 1957 and 1979 that featured design esthetics unlike any that had come previously. After their initial popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, by the mid-century interest in and sales of glass block had decreased, resulting in a need to breathe new life into the building material. What resulted was a brief period of ceramic frit fused, colored, patterned, rectangular, and textured blocks that offered new graphic possibilities to architects and builders. A range of colors from walnut to vibrant coral in several geometric patterns were available. The colors manufactured fit into their context of 1950s color theory. Splitting them into pastels, modern, and Scandinavian color families they could easily adapt to any architectural style and into their overall building design context. The blocks could be utilized as decoratively or minimally as desired. In 1962 and 1967, the Pittsburgh based design firm Peter-Muller Munk and Associates was hired by Pittsburgh Corning to design two series of glass blocks. What resulted were Intaglio Glass Wall Units and the Chiaro I and II designs. Distinct patterns featuring a recessed antiqued glass in the Intaglio, and organic sculptural surfaces of the Chiaros produced dimensional walls with strong textural effects. These are just two examples of the seven glass block designs that were manufactured by PC and OI during this time that utilized the new idea of bringing design into industrial materials. Often found on the outskirts and in the suburbs of metropolitan areas, these glass blocks embodied mid-century design and added decorative elements to simple forms. These glass blocks are no longer manufactured and throughout time are being replaced by their clear and simply patterned counter parts. It is valuable to understand the context and history of these decorative glass blocks before they disappear entirely from the built environment. Drawing from a survey of trade catalogs, architectural magazines, and period articles, it becomes clear that mid- 20th century glass blocks are a direct reflection of their time. Running parallel in color, shape, and verbiage to multiple other building materials, it is clear that glass blocks during this period were intended to keep up with what was happening compositionally in their surrounding environment making it an important period of change.
- Creating an understanding of how mid-century glass blocks fit into the overall history of glass blocks as an American building material.
- Given the visual descriptions of each mid-century glass block outlined, attendee will be able to identify and recognize each when in the field.
- Creating an understanding that mid-century color and shape design also applied to building materials in addition to cars, fashion, and furniture.
- Given the technical information behind the ceramic coating process, attendee will be better equipped to recognize coating failures.