Falconnier, an architect, Chicago city council member, prefect of Nyon, France, and a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris held many patents in the 1880s for various types of glass block of interesting geometric shapes.
At the Columbian Exposition, Falconnier exhibited his glass in buildings outside of the Horticultural Building, showing their potential uses in architecture and horticulture. Falconnier was given an award by the fair commission for, “a new departure in glass building.”
Despite being shown in the horticultural pavilion, the fair commission gave him a somewhat backhanded complement, saying that, “Their adaptability for conservatories intended for plant cultivation has not yet been fully demonstrated, but for conservatory vestibules and other rural effects they are well adapted.” And finally, “In the construction of surgical, photographic, and other experimental laboratories, where extra subdued light is required, they possess great merit.”
|The Northern Pavillion of the Horticultural Building and Exhibit of Hot-Houses and Summer-Houses.|
Glass block would get a second chance at Chicago's Century of Progress International Exposition in 1933, before it really took hold in US architecture. However, other types of architectural glass that would be formative to glass block’s future were taking shape in Chicago.
The popularization of Art Deco glass block walls came via the crowd-pleasing thirteen houses of the future displayed at the 1933–34 Chicago World’s Fair. Glass block walls gave builders an avant garde 20th-Century sensibility that people really liked.
The Chicago World’s Fair buildings, at the time considered the height of American modernity, influenced United States architectural design for many years thereafter. The Century of Progress which had been planned before the crash of 1929, opened in the middle of a worldwide economic crisis. Despite that fact, or perhaps because of it, the Century of Progress resolutely focused on an optimistic vision of the United States yet to come, a premise that proved to be a wise move as it attracted so many visitors that organizers kept the fair open for a second year.
|Owens-Illinois exhibit at the Chicago Century of Progress International Exposition, 1933-34.|
Few fairgoers actually contemplated living in homes like George Fred Keck’s Glass House, a three-story, glass-clad, polygonal tower suspended from a central pole that clearly owed a lot to Le Corbusier’s idea of the house as a “machine for living,” but most attendees marveled at the technology displayed within and without.
|Keck’s design, which the fair billed as the “House of Tomorrow,” made the June 1933 cover of Popular Mechanics.|
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.