Façade: Transparent dreams in Through a Glass Darkly at the National Glass Centre, Sunderland

By Ben Miller Published: 17 March 2011

A photo of the outside of a building covered in glowing glass
Ola Kolehmainen, Untitled (Köln37), Analogue C-print, Diasec (detail) (2010)© Courtesy Purdy Hicks Gallery
Exhibition: Façade: Through a Glass Darkly, National Glass Centre, Sunderland, March 18 – July 10 2011

An original copy of Paul Scheerbart’s 1914 book on display in this show, Glasarchitektur, sparked a new infatuation for early 20th century designers.

William Crabtree’s famous John Lewis Department Store in London would have been built entirely in glass in the 1940s if the blueprint hadn’t eventually been dropped, and by the 1970s models of transparency were turning office life on its head via the iconic Foster and Partners project for insurance brokers Willis Faber Dumas in Ipswich, where a swimming pool for staff and a grass lawn for relaxing on the roof were weaved into plans on display here.

An image of a technical drawing for a sculptural design
Thorsten Klooster with onlab, Touch Screen, Linoprint (2009)
Other featured buildings include two by the Sauerbruch Hutton practice in Cologne and Frankfurt, balancing technical innovation and sensuality in facades which use shifting colours and reflective glass spheres to transform unpromising spaces.

There are also some darker arts at work – Alexander Apostol’s manipulated images show buildings in Caracas reduced to windowless, brooding shells, Michael Raedecker’s The Practice painting views a bleached-out landscape through the windows of a modernist bungalow, and The B-Thing, by Austrian art collective Gelitin, breaks through the sealed modernist veneer of the World Trade Centre to build a tiny balcony to the outside world.

The show goes on to explore the hugely ambitious plans for Masdar in Abu Dhabi, illustrating how the building technology of glazed modernism is being subtly deployed and adapted for a carbon-free future, even in the most extreme conditions.

  • Open 10am-5pm. Admission free.
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