We Never Thought We’d See This 80s Trend Again

updated Jul 23, 2020
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In the minds of almost everyone who grew up in the ’80s, glass block is synonymous with Bad Architecture. It was part of a sort of late-wave shopping-mall-and-office-park Brutalism, and has suffered from the association ever since. Recently, I asked my esteemed colleagues to suggest terrible design elements for this post about bad old trends we hope never come back. They had lots of ideas, one of which was—you guessed it—glass block.

The bad old glass block of the ’80s, as seen on Mirror80. (Image credit: Mirror80)

Generally I agree with my coworkers, because they have the best taste and they work for the best website in the world. Most of the things they suggested—balloon valances! profusions of silk flowers!—I agreed were truly awful. But I refused to add glass block to the list, because, like some kind of prescient weirdo, I was already starting to soften on the trend.

Seth Irvin Morris’ 1979 design for Houston’s Glassel school of art included huge walls of glass block. (Image credit: Houston Museum of Fine Arts via Wikimedia Commons)

I think I can blame this on having grown up in Houston, with the old Glassel School of Art. I hear it’s been demolished now because nothing gold can stay, but that old building, with its walls of glass block that were at once both hulking and ethereal, really sold me on the material.

And I think the tide may be turning, because recently, I’ve noticed a lot of glass block showing up in high-end interiors at the forefront of design. (For example: this Minsk space by the young designers from Studio11. Also lead image above.) I triumphantly pitched the idea to Dabney, our projects editor, and felt like a proud parent, ready to write this article, and ready to convince you as well. Maybe you still think glass block is gross! But stay with me. Read to the end of this post. Allow yourself to live, for a moment, in a place where you might be convinced. If you get to the end, and you still hate it, please sound off in the comments and tell me so. I know you will.

(Image credit: Alex Gasca Architects)

This design for a Barcelona loft, by Alex Gasca Architects, dates back to 2011. The unit’s bathroom is clad in frosted glass block, which sets up the perfect contrast with the apartment’s more rustic elements.

(Image credit: Yellowtrace)
(Image credit: Yellowtrace)

I never would’ve thought I’d describe glass block as “breathtaking,” and yet, here we are. This Hiroshima home, spotted on Yellowtrace, has an enormous wall of glass block that separates an interior courtyard from the street. The veiled courtyard feels private and removed, and yet the greenery inside can still be enjoyed from the street.

(Image credit: Yellowtrace)
(Image credit: Yellowtrace)

For the facade of Chanel’s flagship store in Amsterdam, the architects at MVRDV created a wall of glass block, which mimics the brick of the original building but adds a dazzling translucency. You can see more of this project at Yellowtrace.

(Image credit: Arch Daily)
(Image credit: Arch Daily)

Spotted on Arch Daily, the chapel of this Catholic high school in Chicago has walls of glass block. The varied sizes add a touch of the unexpected to a material you thought you knew.

(Image credit: Bottega Design)

The exposed edge adds an unexpected touch to this glass block shower in a bathroom from Bottega Design.

(Image credit: Vitroblock)

Vitroblock makes colored glass blocks, and I am in love. They’re like a modern, funky take on stained glass.

What do you think? Are you sold on glass block yet?