In the late 1880s, Architect/Engineer Gustave Falconnier [1845-1913]
of Nyon, Switzerland, invented a novel form of glass building block
(glasbausteine), or "glass brick" (brique de verre) as they were
Falconnier's bricks were hollow, blown in mold (BIM), and
sealed air-tight with a pastille of molten glass. Earlier
glass bricks such as by Siemens and Deutsche Luxfer Prismen-Gesellschaft
were unsealed and shaped like traditional masonry bricks.
Manufactured by Albert Gerrer of Mulhouse (Haut-Rhin), S. Reich & Co.
of Vienna and others, the sides were recessed to take mortar and they were
laid up like masonry bricks, with or without embedded metal reinforcing.
Falconnier's hollow, air-tight design, a prize-winner at the 1900 Paris
Exposition (World's Fair), had several advantanges:
"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. Despite initial interest
from important period architects such as
Auguste Perret and
Le Corbusier, and some
(La Mission d'Algérie,
house of Mumm,
etc), Falconnier's design was not a great commercial success. The bricks
are rare today, and existing installations even rarer.
Bricks are typically embossed "FALCONNIER / DEP
FRANCE BELGIQUE + nnn / FRANCE" where nnn is
the style number, most commonly 8. They are sometimes mistaken for
fishing net floats.
Bricks were also made in half and quarter
size for squaring up. Most were of typical light aqua bottle glass, but
other colors were available at extra cost: clear
for improved brightness, and amber, green,
blue and (opal) milkglass for decoration. The patent mentions 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", and additional
ornamentation by sand-blasting, cutting and engraving, or acid etching is
also mentioned, but solid colored glass is the only known form.
Modern-style two-part fused glass blocks were perfected in the 1930s,
more than thirty 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 seen in this catalog page,
as well as the glass bricks of style Glasfabriek Leerdam.
See also: La brique de verre Falconnier by the Nyon Archivists.
Four shapes were produced: square (No. 6), watch-with-band (No. 8),
squashed hexagon (No. 9), and four variations of a regular hexagon
(Nos. 7, 7½, 10 and 11). All
a repeating pattern that completely fills a space. All are rare, but
No. 8 is the most common, followed by No. 9. The square and regular
hexagons are very rare.