Paul Scheerbart: Glass Architecture

Environment and its influence on the development of culture

We live for the most part in closed rooms. These form the environment from which our culture grows. Our culture is to a certain extent the product of our architecture. If we want our culture to rise to a higher level, we are obliged, for better or for worse, to change our architecture. And this only becomes possible if we take away the closed character from the rooms in which we live. We can only do that by introducing glass architecture, which lets in the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars, nor merely through a few windows, but through every possible wall, which will be made entirely of glass — of coloured glass. The new environment, which we thus create, must bring us a new culture.

The veranda

Obviously the first thing to tackle is something quickly done. To start with, therefore, the veranda can be transformed. It is easy to enlarge it, and to surround it on three sides with double glass walls. Both these walls will be ornamentally coloured and, with the light between them, the effect of the veranda in the evening, inside and out, will be most impressive. If a view of the garden is to be provided, this can be achieved by using transparent window-panes. But is it better not to fit window-type panes. Ventilators are better for admitting air.

 In a modest way, it is thus comparatively easy for any villa-owner to create ‘glass architecture’. The first step is very simple and convenient.

The avoidance of wood in furniture and interior decoration

Inside the glass house, too, wood is to be avoided; it is no longer appropriate. Cupboards, tables and chairs must be made of glass if the whole environment is to convey a sense of unity. This will naturally be a grievous blow to the wood industry. Nickel-steel would, of course, have to be decorated with enamel and niello, so that the furniture may create a striking aesthetic effect — like extremely fine wood-carving and wooden cabinets inlaid with other woods. Wood is to be avoided, because of its impermanence, but the use of iron in iron-glass construction lies along the natural line of development.

The furniture in the middle of the room

It will surely appear self-evident that the furniture in the glass house may not be placed against the precious, ornamentally-coloured glass walls. Pictures on the walls are, of course, totally impossible. Given the highest intentions, this revolution in the environment is inevitable. Glass architecture will have a tough fight on its hands, but force of habit must be overcome. Ideas derived from our grandparents must no longer be the deciding influence in the new environment. Everything new has to wage an arduous campaign against entrenched tradition. It cannot be otherwise, if the new is to prevail.

The functional style

The reader might gain the impression that glass architecture is rather cold, but in warm weather, coolness is not unpleasant. Anyhow, let me make it clear that colours in glass can produce a most glowing effect, shedding perhaps a new warmth. What has been said up to now takes on a somewhat warmer atmosphere. I should like to resist most vehemently the undecorated ‘functional style’, for it is inartistic. It has often been adopted before in other contexts, and this is happening once again.

For a transition period, the functional style seems to me acceptable; at all events it has done away with imitations of older styles, which are simply products of brick architecture and wooden furniture. Ornamentation in the glass house will evolve entirely of its own accord — the oriental decoration, the carpets and the majolica will be so transformed that in glass architecture we shall never, I trust, have to speak of copying. At least, let’s hope so!

The beauty of the Earth, when glass architecture is everywhere

The face of the earth would be much altered if brick architecture were ousted everywhere by glass architecture. It would be as if the earth were adorned with sparkling jewels and enamels. Such glory is unimaginable. All over the world it would be as splendid as in the gardens of the Arabian Nights. We should then have a paradise on earth, and no need to watch in longing expectation for the paradise in heaven. 

Direction-finding for aeronautics

Aeronautics will undoubtedly be determined to conquer the night. All towers must therefore become towers of light. And — to simplify navigation — every light tower will be built differently, emit a different light, and be fitted with glass elements of widely differing form. Uniformity in light towers is consequently out of the question. The signaling impulse can be so simple, and the tower itself must be so different from any other, that the aeronaut will immediately be informed where he is.

The crystal room illuminated by translucent floors

At the exhibition, particular attention would have to be given to the lighting tests. We do not yet know, for example, what the effect would be of a room lit by translucent floors. One could discuss lights for ever, but things like flooring, and many other ideas, would have to be tested. In my view a Glass Building Association would have to make capital available for the site and exhibition. If the interest were general, the association would soon be formed.

Airports as glass palaces

For the building of airports, also, glass-iron construction has much to recommend it; airports must be visible and identifiable from far off and this is best achieved by coloured ornamental glass. This will reach its full effect at night, when the entire building is crowned by a diadem of projected lights, delighting not only the aeronauts, but also people who have no airship at their bidding.

Light nights, when glass architecture comes

It seems easy to say that something is indescribable, but of those light nights which glass architecture must bring us, there is nothing else left for us to say except that they are truly indescribable. One thinks of the lights shining from all the glass towers and in every aircraft, and one thinks of these lights in all their many colours. One thinks of the railway trains all gaily lighted, and one adds the factories in which at night, too, the light shines through coloured panes. Then one thinks of the great palaces and cathedrals of glass and the villas of glass, and of the town-like structures, on solid land and in the water — often in movement — and of ever more water in ever different colours. On Venus and Mars they will stare in wonder and no longer recognize the surface of the earth.

Perhaps men will live more by night than by day. Astronomers will erect their observatories in quiet mountain ravines and on peaks, because the huge sea of coloured light may disturb the study of the heavens.

This is not a modern concept — the great Gothic master-builders thought of it first. We must not forget that.

Three-dimensional and two-dimensional ornament in architecture

In the Alhambra, we mostly find three-dimensional ornament, but of perishable plaster-work. Glass architecture can also use such ornament, but of imperishable glass materials. The most delicate blown decoration is made of glass, even of frosted and filigree glass. This kind of plastic art for the ornamental glass wall should admittedly only be considered for formal rooms; there it is entirely feasible and not merely a figment of the imagination. Venice is no longer the pinnacle of glass culture, although it has contributed much that often obliges one to return to it later. I do not recommend copies, but it certainly seems to me that the splendours of Venetian glass, as reflected in particular by the palaces of Isola Bella, are valuable sources of inspiration. One often forgets that present-day Italy, without glass, really has very little attraction.


Glasarchitektur (Glass Architecture) originally published in May 1914
Verlag der Sturm | Berlin

%d bloggers like this: