Glass can be found everywhere we go – at home, at work, at stores and in buildings all around our cities and towns. But where did it come from? How has it been used through the years? Why does glass matter?
A History of Glass
Although little is known about where glass actually came from or who made the first piece of glass, there are two naturally occurring types of glass – obsidian and fulgurite. It is believed that the practice of glassmaking began in Mesopotamia more than 4,000 years ago and many experts believe that glassmaking that may have been refined over an even longer period of time.
Glass created by pouring molten glass into a mold dates back to significant buildings discovered in the ruins of Rome and Pompeii. It is believed that the art of glassmaking spread through Europe, and by the 17th century, colored glass could be found in churches and cathedrals.
From the 11th century until the 19th century, the crown glass process was used to make sheets of glass that created optical distortions. This type of colored glass was considered a luxury for the wealthy because of the steep manufacturing costs, and it was used to create dramatic stained glass windows during the Gothic and Baroque periods. Over time, the stained glass was used more often in large building windows.
With the Industrial Revolution came more ways to produce and use glass, stronger types of glass and new construction materials that made it possible for glass to be used as walls.
The Art of Glass
Joseph Paxton, a gardener and greenhouse designer, is credited with creating the first large-scale glass structure called The Crystal Palace. Begun in Hyde Park, England, the 992,000 square-foot building was developed to house The Great Exhibition of 1851 and it incorporated 300,000 pieces of glass. The design, which was built in record time, was created using iron frames set with the largest panes of glass in history up to that time. The structure was destroyed by a fire in 1936.
Early in the 20th century, Chicago architects began building the first high-rise glass buildings. In 1922, a German architect created 20- and 30-story skyscrapers closely resembling the buildings we see today. Fast forward to today’s technology, and we can enjoy multi-story facades including skyscrapers seen along Manhattan’s skyline.
Through the centuries, creative architecture has elevated the function of glass, taking us from drinkware and mere windows to dramatic statements of art and beautiful buildings in some of the world’s most significant cities.