Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Glass bricks

click photo to enlarge
The first time I saw glass bricks I was about 12 years old and it was the 1960s. As soon as I set eyes on them I knew I liked them. They were in a section of wall in the porch of a police station. The building would have been quite new - a post-war construction of the 1950s - and the architect must have wanted to show his modernity. In retrospect I realise that the purpose of the glass bricks (sometimes called glass blocks) was to let light into the public area, let the policeman at the desk see anyone approaching, and provide a strong wall. Those three factors are the reason for anyone using glass bricks. I'm only sorry they aren't used more often.

Architects employ them reasonably frequently in high-cost private housing, but in the UK they are more commonly found in utilitarian private buildings, or in the functional parts of public buildings. Consequently garages and multi-storey car parks often have them, as do toilets, washrooms, and municipal swimming baths. They are used less on exterior walls than formerly because vandals have discovered that the right tool can puncture the outside of the two glass membranes, revealing the internal void and making the inner layer of glass vulnerable. But, despite this disadvantage, I still feel that our built environment would be better if internal walls featured more glass bricks. Wonderful effects can be achieved with lighting near these bricks, and some come with lights actually inside. However, the changing daylight, combined with the colouring that can be applied to the glass, is often what works best.

I took this photograph from inside the porch of a washroom. The glass bricks were part of the exterior wall and tinted blue. They created a grid, and from inside picked up the colours of anything that was outside or passing by. This shot was taken in the late afternoon with a wide zoom lens. A small light had come on, adding a yellow patch to the grid. I tilted the camera to create a more dynamic composition, and placed the light effect near an intersection of the bricks. The combination of colours, along with the glass distortions and the regular grid, makes, I think, an interesting composition.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen