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(45,436 posts)
Mon Jun 24, 2024, 02:28 PM Jun 24

Remember the glass blocks of '80s bathrooms? They're back. [View all]

Architects and designers are deploying the once-dated building material in fresh, modern ways.



Along with 1980s neon manicures and vintage ’90s blazers, glass blocks are making a comeback thanks in part to a new fan base on social media. One Instagram reel showcasing several types of the retro building material has racked up more than 5 million views since March. It features cross-hatched blocks, frosted blocks and fluted blocks, underscoring the fact that the latest iterations aren’t always quite what you remember from your aunt’s gaudy apartment or the restaurant with a smoking section where you celebrated family birthdays.

Glass blocks have more than just good looks going for them, too. They’re a relatively affordable choice for homeowners who want to add architectural interest or natural light without sacrificing privacy. They’re even known for enhancing fire safety. “Glass blocks have this inherent luminosity to them, while also solving … technical problems,” says Brendan Guerin, founding member of the firm Guerin Glass Architects, which operates in Honolulu, Los Angeles and Brooklyn. Here’s why the glass block renaissance just makes sense.

Privacy and light

There’s a very good reason glass blocks became so associated with luxury ’80s and ’90s bathrooms: They let in natural light without exposing inhabitants to the outside world the way a typical window would. This remains a key draw for architects today. Brad Swartz of Brad Swartz Architects, a firm that specializes in urban spaces in Sydney, explains that glass blocks were an ideal solution when he was tasked with designing a home in an alleyway, along with designer Henry Wilson. The location was dark and tight, with neighbors in close proximity. Swartz stacked glass blocks, etched on one side to enhance privacy, around nearly the entire front of the house.

“The way they let light through is really beautiful and changes throughout the day,” he says. This project drew inspiration from one of the most enduring glass block masterpieces: the Maison de Verre, a 1930s residence in Paris distinguished by its glass blocks with circles in the center. Like Swartz and Wilson’s alleyway project, the Maison de Verre includes entire walls of the material. According to west Michigan-based WMGB Home Improvement, a remodeling company that specializes in glass blocks, the most popular version it sells has a wavy pattern that diffuses light. However, it provides numerous designs and even colored blocks.


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