Glass has been commonly used for centuries. The Egyptians were travelling in ships with the pyramid-shaped glass skylights built into their decks. In the early 1800’s, glass blocks / glass bricks were individually used in cellars and ship’s bowels, providing a great source of light. First being cut squares of simple traditional glass, then prism-shaped pressed glass to allow light to be dispersed.
Originally, the prismatic glass was fitted into steel frame structures in the shape of transitional ceilings and skightlights, making larger surfaces easily translucent.
The history of glass blocks as a building material starts in the 1900's with the advent of the glass-manufacturing machine by Loeme in 1903. A French architect named Joachim designed and built the first dome which was made with a combination of the newly-invented, machine-made concrete and glass blocks. Four years later, Freidrich Keppler, founder and head of the Berlin Luxfer-Prismen-Gesellschaft, applied for a patent on glass block of 4 to 6.5 cm in thickness.
A year later, Joachim applied for the French patent, “Le béton armé translucide". During this period, the “Technical Military Committee" praised the excellent properties of this new invention.
Hollow glass blocks were designed also at this time and developed for vertical structures which were better liked by builders for their sound proofing and thermal qualities.
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The Corning-Steuben block was the design that really worked well and its design is still in use today. It was fashioned by fusing two molded glass halves with a hollow interior together under high heat.
Soon however, more robust machine-made blocks were offered by Luxfer-Prismen-Gesellschaft as well as Siemens in Dresden. Their products consisted mainly of open hollow glass blocks which resembled the usual bricks in size and form. Albert Gerrer in Mulhouse was at the same time still manufacturing mouth-blown glass blocks using Falconnier process which however were sealed before the block cooled down with small glass plugs. Their form still resembled that of the hexagonal prototypes.
It was not until the 1930’s that the further development of machine production produced more satisfactory types which were easier to work. The Corning-Steuben block, consisting of two halves of heat-proof glass pressed together, as well as the Owen-Illinois block became immediate precursors of the patented block of Pilkington Bros Ltd. ( St Helens). Modern glass blocks are still being produced according to this principle, namely that two moulded-glass halves with a hollow interior are melted and fused together under high temperatures.
Architects found building with glass blocks / glass bricks an exciting advancement as they now had a new kind of building block with which to play. They were already aware of the versatility of glass; how they could add color and texture without losing any of its character; how they could mold glass block and shape it into various forms. Now it was available to them at a reasonable cost to offer as an attractive alternative to the normal building materials. They found it more interesting as glass blocks have amazing fire resistant properties.
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Glass block as a building material was an intriguing alternative to brick made of clay or concrete and offered the benefit of burglar resistant windows (see our range of security glass blocks)
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