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
Faculty Advisor: 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.

Learning Objectives:

Nicole Frank

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Nicole Frank received an M.S. Historic Preservation degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of Charleston in historic preservation. Throughout her studies, Nicole has been exposed to many aspects of preservation including materials conservation and government work. Nicole looks to continue her work in the field of preservation, specializing in hands-on restoration and any way that will support her passion for research. She is interested specifically in the building materials of the mid-century, dealing with the conservation of materials made through mass production rather than through hand craftsmanship.


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Lorraine Schnabel

Schnabel Conservation LLC

Lorraine Schnabel is the principal and owner of Schnabel Conservation LLC, a full service materials conservation consulting firm. We work with preservation project teams to diagnose whole building and individual material deterioration problems and identify workable, practical, durable solutions. After nearly thirty years in practice as both a private conservator and as a project manager at John Milner Associates and 1:1:6 Technologies, Lorraine has developed experience with most types of building materials and historic construction systems. Her principle areas of expertise are masonry and materials analysis. She has applied her skills in the preservation of a broad range of building ages and types, from small historic houses to the Baltimore Washington Monument. Currently, she is co-chair of the APT Technical Committee for Materials, and she has served on the board of the Delaware Valley chapter of APT as well. She is a Fellow of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic works, and served in leadership roles in the Architecture Specialty Group and Conservators in Private Practice of that organization. She teaches Building Conservation to students in the College of Architecture and the Built Environment at Jefferson (formerly Philadelphia) University. Lorraine holds a BA in Geology from Pomona College and an MSc. in Historic Preservation from Columbia University.


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3 - Mid-Century Glass Block: The Colored, Patterned, and Textured Era

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