Retro Reflections: Considering the Glass Block Wall

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Building Doors, Windows and Skylights, 1989© Fine Homebuilding

Practical provider of natural light or post-modernist eyesore? Supreme Interiors weighs in...

Glass blocks, or glass bricks, have been around for about 100 years. Originally used in factories to provide natural light to the workers, they are now mostly used in residential and small commercial applications. They're great, practically speaking, at offering natural light in settings where privacy is important: offices, bathrooms, doorways adjacent to busy streets. I can understand the appeal, sure. But this is function at the severe sacrifice of form.

There's an inevitability when it comes to design trends – once something falls out of fashion it's only a matter of time until it falls back in. I entered the game solidly between high points for the glass block. To me, the glass block wall had always been an icon of quintessential 80s design. Along with the likes of neon, leg-warmers, and Cyndi Lauper gloves, the glass block represented a stereotype of a past era. It was a character of a character, full of the superficial style but devoid of any real heart. In a word, it was a cliché.

That's not to say I don't want to like them, and even in the time it took to find these pictures and write this post I've realised I'm that much closer. Glass blocks definitely have merit, and if there's any time for a swift comeback it would be now, with the 80s postmodernism revival and New Memphis movement well underway. I imagine if I wait a little bit longer I'll catch the swell of the glass block wave, and my opinion will be reformed, the glass block reborn. Until then, these ten vintage interiors showcasing the glass block in all of it's 80s glory offers a glimpse of what that resurgence may look like.

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