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Gustave Falconnier's Blown Glass Bricks
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Gustave Falconnier
Wikipedia: DE, FR
Nyon blog

Gustave Falconnier
Gustave Falconnier's signature

Gustave Falconnier's award certificate from the 1893 Colombia World's Exposition
1893 Award
Nyon Archives

Glasbausteine Patent Falconnier
S. Reich & Co
1900 Catalog
300 DPI Scan:
26MB tar|zip|pdf

Glasbausteine „Falconnier”
ca.1905 Catalog
300 DPI Scan:
26MB tar|zip|pdf

Falconnier bricks by Siemens
Siemens ca.1933

Falconnier bricks by Gaston Blanpain-Massonet

Falconnier briques at the house of Mihály Babits, famous Hungarian writer, poet, translator, and literary historian

Blue #8 Falconnier brick

Falconnier briques in the Castel Béranger

Dora and Marinus Wassenbergh

Falconnier bricks at the Mumm caves entrance

Amber #9 Falconnier brick with alternate face pattern
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 metal reinforcing. Falconnier brique seal
Brick seal
Unsealed glass blocks by Deutsche Luxfer Prismen-Gesellschaft Marke Faust Unsealed glass blocks by Deubener Glaswerke Unsealed glass blocks by Siemens of Dresden Vera-Lux
Glass blocks by Deutsche Luxfer Prismen-Gesellschaft Marke Faust glass blocks by Deubener Glaswerke Glass blocks by Siemens of Dresden Vera-Lux glass blocks by Glasfabriek Leerdam
Another early type of glass brick made by Deutsche Luxfer Prismen-Gesellschaft, Deubener Glaswerke, Siemens, and Glasfabriek Leerdam (these last three very similar, see above) were unsealed and shaped much like early LEGO bricks. They lacked a bottom surface, so had problems with condensation, dust collection and calcification on their interior surfaces, which could never be cleaned.
Long side of bottle-brick Short side of bottle-brick Top of bottle-brick Bottom of bottle-brick How bottle-bricks are laid up Heineken World Bottle (WOBO) Heineken Cube
Left: Bottle-bricks were also tried; they were BIM like bottles, but rectangular, and with punts matching their necks. The bricks shown (a gift from Taco Hermans) 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" (WOBO), 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 Cube bottle of 2008; its design goal is more efficient use of transportation/shelf space, but it could also be re-used for construction.

Falconnier's sealed, air-tight design, a prize-winner at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and 1900 Paris Exposition, fixed the contamination problem and had other benefits:

"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 Hector Guimard, Auguste Perret and Le Corbusier, and featured in some prominent installations like Castel Béranger, La Mission d'Algérie, and in the façade of the Mumm caves. 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 unsightly patches.

Partial Falconnier bricks 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 tessellate, forming 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 Seal on green #8 Falconnier brick "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 "??? 14899".
  • None: Newly produced #6, #8 and #9 bricks by Luxfery have no embossing, distinguishing them from original bricks, all of which were embossed in some way.
Ruby-red-cased Falconnier brick
Photo: Kristel De Vis

Colors: Most bricks were light aqua (halbweiss), 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 amber, green, 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, gold-ruby glass; 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.

Value: Despite rarity, prices are low since there are very few collectors of early glass bricks (basically, me), so there is little demand. The most common brick, a #8 in light aqua, is difficult to sell at any price. I have seen hundreds for sale (often in large lots), and would price them at about US$5 in quantity, more singly. Rarer patterns, colors, and partial bricks are all worth more. The high end is about US$150 for a rare pattern/color combination.

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 of Bruxelles was still producing bricks in the #8 pattern (always the most popular), as well as glass bricks of style Glasfabriek Leerdam. Siemens in 1933 was also still making Falconnier-pattern bricks in the #8, #9 and #10 patterns (which they call types 1, 2 and 3), but with sides modified to interlock. Today, almost 140 years after their introduction, Falconnier's bricks in the #6, #8 and #9 styles are once more being produced by Luxfery in the Czech Republic!