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ART SEEN - Blown glass bricks

ART SEEN // Events// Style// General// Art & Culture // By Uli Van Neyghem // Sept. 7, 2018



Uli Van Neyghem takes a look at 'Un rêve d'architecte' / 'An Architect's dream'; Falconnier's glass bricks, on display in Nyon, for this week's Art Seen


Light is filtering through colourful glass prisms, breaking in the facets and creating translucent reflections in the beautiful exhibition rooms of the Château de Nyon. These chromatic plays of light make the Falconnier blown glass brick exhibition such a special treat. The charm is due to the fact that each glass brick is a unique, handcrafted and mouth blown masterpiece with resulting slight differences in shade. They have very little in common with the boring uniform mass produced glass bricks used in construction nowadays.



You might be surprised to find out that Gustave Falconnier, who invented blown glass bricks was not only born in Nyon, but worked and lived here for the majority of his life. He went through a formation of engineering in Lausanne, followed by Fine Arts studies in Paris. Based on this twofold academic path, Falconnier always managed to fuse the practical with aesthetics throughout his career. Apart from working as an architect and holding the position of Prefect of the district of Nyon for many years, Falconnier was a passionate inventor. He applied for more than 40 patents in various countries, including the first glass baby bottle. But his most defining and famed invention is definitely the Falconnier blown glass brick.  



Glass bricks were a revolutionary material in the construction industry, making it possible to build glass walls. Falconnier's groundbreaking approach to call on the hollow glass industry (as in the production of bottles), rather than the traditional plate glass sector (that used to produce windows or mirrors), for the creation of a glass based construction material, resulted in unprecedented thermal, static, acoustic and moisture insulation qualities.  

For a larger variety of creative possibilities, Falconnier not only developed different models of bricks based on geometrical shapes (square, hexagon and circle), he produced bricks in coloured glass. The surface of the bricks was cut with facets to diffract light, thus creating light effects typical of the emerging Art Nouveau movement.  

The Falconnier glass brick rapidly conquered Europe and the United States via international exhibitions and sparked a fascination for this new material among modernist architects between 1895 and 1910. 


The exhibition shows beautiful photographic examples of how Falconnier's invention was used first by himself and later by other famous architects in many countries, including Switzerland. It is striking, that the examples of constructions with Falconnier bricks designed by other architects in French-speaking Switzerland stress the material's practical qualities, rather than the creative possibilities provided by shape or colour. In contrast, French architects came up with a lot more frivolous designs, making full use of the artistic potential. 

Boasting the largest known collection of Falconnier glass bricks, including rare wooden prototypes and cast-iron moulds, the exhibition at the Château de Nyon offers unique insights into the creative and labour intensive manufacturing process, including a film showing the crafting of a brick by mouth blowing the glass that is then fitted into a mould and sealed. 



This individual production process, as well as the unusual shapes and shades the original Falconnier bricks were made in, were not only the reason for their unique charm, but also for their eventual decline in demand, due to their complex assembly and the lack of a mechanised production method.

Discover the legacy of a creative Swiss icon in this inspiring exhibition around glass and light! 


The Practical Details
What:                  'Un rêve d'architecte': La brique de verre Falconnier
                            'An architect's dream': Falconnier blown glass bricks
Where:                Château de Nyon, Place du Château, CH-1260 Nyon                              
When:                 Until April 22, 2019
Opening times: Until October 31: Tuesday - Sunday from 10:00 - 17:00
                           November 1 - March 31: Tuesday - Sunday from 14:00 - 17:00
                           closed on Mondays, except on holidays
Entry Fees:        Adults CHF 8
                           Student, seniors CHF 6
                           free for children until the age of 16
                           free entry every first Sunday of the month 




Art Seen is sponsored by Africa - the Ecstatic Religions exhibition at MEG - Musée d'ethnographie de Genève. 

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