Sunlight glints through candy-colored glass. Hexagonal or square shapes nestle together. The Falconnier technique, used to make these beautiful glass bricks, was all but lost. Now glassblowers in St. Petersburg, Russia, are bringing it back.
Nikita Andreev’s studio is called NWGlass.lab. He and his team of architects and glassblowers have already restored windows and front doors in St. Petersburg and Moscow with glass bricks.
Andreev remembers seeing the glass bricks in abandoned houses. “They were hardened, half-broken, with traces of time,” he says. “We managed to collect a couple of samples. Later, we found out what it is.”
In the late 1880s, Swiss architect and engineer Gustave Falconnier created hollow glass bricks. They received awards for their lightness and durability.
“The first patent for [the glass brick molds] appeared in 1886,” explains Tamara Kovalyova. She works on the production of the bricks at NWGlass.lab.
Andreev calls NWGlass.lab a recycling project. The glass for the bricks is made of used bottles collected locally.
In the workshop, pieces of glass bottles sit in buckets. A glassblower heats a ball of glass in an oven on a long hollow rod, using his breath to force air into the middle of the ball. Then he transfers the glass to a mold. That mold shapes the hot liquid into a hollow brick with a hole on one end. Workers then seal the brick shut with a glass plug or patch.
Kovalyova says that the molds that the team uses for blowing bricks are both historical and original designs. She says it took almost three years to recreate the historical forms.
Process engineer Ivan Kozitsyn says, “The [technologies] were just forgotten, just destroyed. They have been lost. Now we have to reinvent them.”
Modular and adaptable, glass blocks quickly caught the attention of architects in the beginning of the 19th century. In St. Petersburg, these kinds of bricks were used in many buildings.
Today, you might see square glass bricks in offices or bathrooms. Particularly popular in the 1930s, these let light through but offer more privacy than a standard window pane. Stamped or pressed glass blocks soon replaced blown glass. Those are more uniform, less expensive, and don’t require a glassblower’s lungs and artistry. But as the workers of NWGlass.lab can see, Falconnier’s blown glass bricks are unique—and worth the extra effort.
He . . . showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. — Revelation 21:10-11
Why? People develop many methods to make beautiful arts and crafts. Easier or cheaper ways might replace some, but there may still be value in the old and unique.