Saturday, September 10, 2016

Letter of Recommendation: Glass Bricks

Like so many seemingly innocuous things, glass bricks were created to make the world a better place. They were invented at the turn of the 20th century to provide factory workers with more natural light. Soon they moved beyond the world of industry, as Art Deco architects took to their sleek modernism, using them to adorn building exteriors and divide interiors. A 1930 issue of Popular Science speculated about a future in which skyscrapers would be made almost entirely of glass bricks.

Today glass bricks are most closely associated with the decadence of 1980s architecture, which channeled the elegance and streamlined surfaces of Art Deco — an ’80s callback to the retro future imagined in the ’20s. Though they are designed to look pristinely high-gloss forever, time and dirt take their toll on most. There’s something kind of sleazy about them and not just because they show up in the background of so many scenes shot in Encino porn houses. You find them in corner bars and mini-malls, reflecting neon or LED light. They’re often installed to replace windows, providing translucency but keeping the outside firmly out. If they once signaled progress, nowadays glass bricks signify an oddly compelling sort of decline. And for me, they evoke my own Los Angeles childhood. At some point, I became completely obsessed.

My fixation was fueled, in part, by a fear that glass bricks were becoming endangered. Los Angeles has morphed in recent years. Ritzy apartment buildings and trendy hotels went up in formerly decaying areas like downtown and Hollywood, turning decrepit blocks into lavish playgrounds. This year it was announced that the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, in Exposition Park, would be bulldozed to make way for a more modern stadium. The arena had been around since 1959, and in Los Angeles, a building from 1959 is considered fairly historic. But its datedness was exactly what I loved about the arena; it felt like a portal to a Los Angeles I’d never seen, whose ghosts I could sense. It was also full of glass bricks, and I feared they would be ground to crystalline dust.

I started taking long, aimless drives down major city-spanning thoroughfares like Beverly Boulevard and through suburban neighborhoods like Glendale, searching for glass bricks that I could capture with my camera phone. I started to see them everywhere in Los Angeles, and through Twitter, I learned that they were actually everywhere. A #glassbricks hashtag I started as a joke became real when people began sending me photos of their own sightings from all corners of the world: Amsterdam, Tokyo, Zurich. Last week, a friend sent me a shot of some glass bricks near Chernobyl that probably haven’t been touched since 1986. There are glass bricks at the end of the world.

by Molly Lambert, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Coley Brown