Don’t look now, but that 1980’s look made popular by TV’s “Miami Vice” is baaaack! However, for those who had quite enough of the running and gunning of Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs when they owned primetime shouldn’t worry. Parachute pants are NOT back in style! This look is all about the resurgence of the use of glass brick or glass block in upscale residential and commercial design.
This design trend, which first gained popularity in the 1930’s Art Deco style, has architects and interior designers thinking outside the glass box. Britt Stokes of Acme Brick noted, “This design trend is being driven by the consumer’s appreciation of natural radiance of light. Glass block gives a home or retail establishment an expanded feel and we are seeing great interest in our IBP Glass Block product line for windows, walls, showers, flooring, and pavers.”
Glass Block Vs. Glass Brick
Part of the reason these little glass boxes have regained design popularity is their multiple styles. Steve Boesch, with GBA Architectural Products + Services, one of IBP’s largest distributors, notes that there is a difference between “glass block” and “glass brick.”
“A glass brick is just that,” Boesch said. “It is composed of solid glass and this makes it extremely durable. We have had large, infrastructure buildings such as water treatment facilities constructed of glass brick. They can meet aballistic level of 1 through 6. The glass brick can be used in “Tornado Resistant Glass Block windows and meet FEMA 361 Protocol. There are also options for Hurricane Resistant Glass Block windows.
“Glass block is a more traditional design material. It is manufactured by sealing two halves of glass and then stacked for walls. The look can be composed of a variety of styles from wavy lines to concentric circles and many other styles. All are translucent and play with natural light. This is why architects and designers enjoy working with them.”
According to Vogue Living, glass block manufacturers are offering a fresh update on the '70s/'80s trend. “Some brands are taking the glass brick concept and making it contemporary—almost futuristic. Swapping out the square for the classic rectangle, the updated glass brick is all about texture, versatility and making a statement.”
Making Retro Contemporary
According to an article in Architectural Digest, many of the early uses of glass block were for floor to ceiling facades. However, as the article notes, “designers today are finding ways to bring the material back to life indoors, without the cringe-worthy ‘80s vibe.
“Los Angeles architect, Richard Petit and his team, for example, used glass block in place of a main window at “Mare Salon” in West Hollywood and continued the theme for accent walls throughout the interiors. Swedish architect Christian Hallerod created dramatic walls of glass brick in NYC’s “Byredo” boutique to complement the light wood and Italian terrazzo surfaces throughout. And New York firm ASH NYC also paired glass blocks with terrazzo in the bathrooms it designed for the “Siren Hotel” in Detroit.”
The IBP glass block available from Acme Brick was integral in the remodel of the newest Coach flagship store, located at 685 Fifth Avenue in New York City. According to Coach, “The 20,000 square foot retail space dedicated to the Coach brand showcases the brand’s distinctive modern luxury positioning. Specifically, the interior features an impressive blackened steel and concrete staircase, which creates a sense of discovery while shopping, as well as a glass enclosed, vintage-inspired elevator. Throughout the three-level flagship is a mix of eclectic and bespoke furniture and objects, accented by custom-designed cabinetry, warm lighting, proprietary carpets and fine millwork. Additional architectural elements include a glass-block facade, expansive windows and a captivating mechanized conveyor belt installed with a rotation of Coach products.”
How can homeowners or commercial building owners take advantage of this resurgent trend? Petit offers these two suggestions:
- Break up glass-block walls into smaller modules. For example, in the salon, the firm divided the block walls with black-painted frames so that they resemble Shoji screens.
- The style of the glass block is also important. Since “wavy” is the pattern most typically associated with the 1980s, Petit advises to avoid this style and any surrounding textures. “Think matte finish and warm tones. The beauty of glass block is that they emit a backlit glow, so any harsh colors or glossy surfaces near them could be a design fail.”
Glass Block is Energy Efficient and Easily Replaceable
“Architects, builders, and designers also love to use glass blocks because they are energy efficient,” noted Boesch. “It is more insulating than a typical window pane and this, of course, saves the building owner money on their utilities.” Special “Energy Saving” block can achieve an R Value of over 5.
The next generation of glass blocks will also have the capacity of storing solar energy. This will encourage solar energy to replace solar panels with these high-tech glass panels. According to this article, the “Solar Square” glass block will be able to store solar energy while letting light in at the same time; meaning your home can have a cool-looking glass-block wall or ceiling, and your energy bill will be sliced significantly.”
“The glass block is also more secure and easily replaceable,” said Boesch. “This is because it doesn’t require mortar. The glass block slides into aluminum frames and silicon is then applied to seal them. If a block is damaged, it is very easy to replace.”