Scans: Nyon Archives
|History: In the late 1880s,
Architect/Engineer Gustave Falconnier
[1845-1913] of Nyon,
Switzerland, invented a novel type of glass building block or "glass
brick" (German glasbaustein or glassteine,
French brique de verre).
Falconnier's bricks were blown in a mold
(BIM) like bottles, but had the original feature of being sealed
air-tight with a pastille of molten glass while hot (see right);
after cooling, the hot air trapped inside contracts, forming a
partial vacuum. Their sides were recessed to take mortar and were
laid up like ordinary masonry bricks, with or without embedded
Falconnier's sealed, air-tight design, a prize-winner at the
1893 Chicago World's Fair and
1900 Paris Exposition, solved the contamination problem and had
"By making such bricks or blocks hollow, especially when they are
made air-tight, they possess several advantages over other materials,
being cheap, light, durable, and ornamental. Further, by reason of
their inclosing and confining air in a state of rest they serve as
non-conductors of heat."
—US Patent No. 402,073
Haywards Ltd bought the patent and marketed
them in England for vault and window walls.
Falconnier's bricks were used by important period architects such as
Auguste Perret and
Le Corbusier, and
featured in some prominent installations like
La Mission d'Algérie,
and in the façade of the
His bricks are rare today and existing installations even rarer, although
careful demolition of old buildings occasionally results in large lots of
bricks for sale. Like all glass bricks, including modern ones, they can't
be replaced once damaged, so old installations often have
Other Glass Bricks:
|Left: Bottle-bricks were also tried; they were
BIM like bottles, but
rectangular, and with
their necks. The bricks shown (a gift from
are unidentified, marked only with
"Pat. ang." (Patent Angemeldet
= Patent Pending). Their sides are lightly textured to increase the
mortar bonding area, and like the LEGO-style bricks, they are not
sealed, which also results eventually in contamination of their
interior surfaces. Right: In 1963, Alfred Heineken
designed a bottle
of similar form, his "World Bottle"
though instead of being purpose-made for construction, it was a beer
bottle which could be re-used once empty. Heineken is at it again,
experimenting with their
bottle of 2008; its design goal is more efficient use of
transportation/shelf space, but it could also be re-used for construction.
Shapes: Four basic shapes
were produced: square (#5, 6, 10½), a lozenge or watch-and-band
shape (#8), squashed hexagon (#9), and a regular hexagon (#7, 7½,
10 and 11). All
a repeating pattern that completely fills a plane. #8 was the most
popular shape and so is the most common now, followed by #9 (also
fairly common), then regular hexagon and square, which are rare;
I estimate the ratio at about 100:50:5:1.
To fill a rectangular opening,
non-square styles were also made in ¾,
½ and ¼
sizes. A ¾ brick finished the long side, a ½ brick finished
the short side, and a ¼ brick finished a corner.
Makers: Known makers of Falconnier bricks:
Embossings: (// separates panels, / separates
lines on the same panel)
- The most common embossing (from an unknown maker) is
"FALCONNIER // DEP. FRANCE /
BELGIQUE. +n" on the body, with a seal reading
"FALCONNIER / D.R.P. / 41773".
DEP. is déposer
(to register a patent), n is the style#, D.R.P.
is Deutsches Reichspatent (German imperial patent), and
41773 is the German patent number.
- "FALCONNIER" and nothing else
(on my cobalt and amber #7s)
- "FALCONNIER // 5", seal
"FALCONNIER / DR 10708",
on a square brick. The style# "5"
doesn't match #5 as shown in the catalog,
and German patent DE10708
doesn't seem to fit, so this is a mystery brick at present,
though it was used at Villa Bergeret
and other locations.
- "FALCONNIER / Nº 10½",
seal appears unmarked, but it's quite deformed so hard to be sure.
- "FALCONNIER // IMPORTE D'ALLEMAGNE //
ADLERHÜTTE / PENZIG" (on my green #7½; "IMPORTE
D'ALLEMAGNE" = "Imported from Germany")
- "FALCONNIER // DEPOSÉ //
Nº 8.¾", seal "BRIQUES
FALCONNIER / VERRERIES / DE / DORIGNIES" on my amber #8¾
- "FALCONNIER // Nº 9.¼ // DLERHÜTTEN / PENZIG" on a clear #9¼-brick.
Note, the 'A' from ADLERHÜTTEN is missing due to lack of
room and the N is cramped; who planned that?
- "GLASSHÜTTE GERRESHEIM"
on a light aqua #9; the seal is unmarked.
- "MAXIME SILBERBERG / VARSOVIE"
on a clear #9 brick from St Petersburg.
- "М. ФРАНКЪ И КО / Б. КИСЕЛЬНЫЙ пер. 13 МОСКВА"
(M. Frank & Co. / 13 Big Kiselny Street, Moscow), seal
- "Glass.lab" embossed on both the side
and seal is the mark of new bricks produced
- None: Newly produced #6, #8 and #9 bricks by
Luxfery have no embossing,
distinguishing them from other bricks, all of which were
embossed in some way.
Colors: Most bricks were
light aqua (halbweiss =
"half-white"), the usual color of glass made from common sand which has
iron contamination (which is most sands, as any child who's played in a
sandbox with a magnet can attest), but other colors were available at extra
cost: clear (aka "white") for improved light
transmission, and decorative colors
blue and (opal)
milkglass (all colored in the mass).
A red brick was made by
casing a clear
brick in a thin layer of expensive,
they were more than twice the cost of other colors. The patent talks of
coloring "either in the mass or by coating or covering them inside
or outside in full or in part with layers of metal or paint";
additional ornamentation by sand-blasting, cutting and engraving, or
acid etching is also mentioned, but I have yet to see these variations.
Finis: Modern-style two-part fused glass
blocks were perfected in the 1930s, more than forty years after Falconnier's
bricks were introduced. Around the same time, Belgian company
Etablissements Gaston Blanpain-Massonet was
was still producing bricks in the #8 and #9 patterns (always the most
popular), as well as glass bricks in the style of
Siemens in 1933 was still making
Falconnier styles 8, 9 and 10
(which they call types 1, 2 and 3), but with sides modified to interlock,
and the ca.1950 A. G. Erste Böhmische Glasfabrik catalog lists styles
6, 7a, 8 and 9, plus some modifications.
Today, almost 140 years after their introduction, Falconnier
bricks are once more being produced by Luxfery
in Prague (Czech Republic), Harzkristall
in Derenburg (Germany) and NWGlass-lab
in Saint Petersburg (Russia)!