by Stephen Eskilson. Bloomsbury Academic, February 2018. 229 p. ill. ISBN 9781474278355 (pbk), $26.95.
Reviewed July 2018
Glass, a ubiquitous material within our built environment today, takes center stage in Stephen Eskilson’s informative book about its use and application in modern and contemporary architecture. Paramount to his discussion is the question of functionalist and/or expressionist motivations for the use of glass, viewed within the context of the development and evolution of the modernist aesthetic.
The author assumes that the reader has a basic understanding of architectural history and discussion of key buildings, architects, and glass industry players are referenced throughout. Eskilson begins his discussion with Paxton’s Crystal Palace, a logical starting point for the post-industrial revolution era in which glass was beginning to be solidified as a more mainstream commodity and building material. Each of the seven chapters follows a loose chronology, leading the reader through key moments in the history of the material, ranging from Tiffany and La Farge’s revitalization of stained glass and its use in secular buildings to the emergence of skyscrapers in Chicago and New York; the Chicago window; curtain walls; glass blocks and glass as a hygienic material; and ultimately, the political tension of modernist glass and postmodernism.
A notes section is included, arranged in chapter order, and it is here that the reader can find citations for books, articles, and other key publications that informed Eskilson’s argument. The author’s critical discussion complements and draws from the existing literature, referencing and reminding the reader of Paul Scheerbart’s Glasarchitektur, Siegfried Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture the Growth of a New Tradition, and John Dix’s Glasshouse, to name only a few. A list of figures is also included, and all figures are reproduced in black and white. It should be noted that not all of the buildings that are discussed are included as figures, but the author has struck a nice balance of text and visuals throughout. The book has a perfect binding with silk-finished pages, lending itself to be somewhat durable to the wear and tear caused by use and circulation.
Eskilson’s style of writing is accessible. It is easy to follow the presentation of the arguments for each chapter. He is adept at reminding the reader of central themes, or deviations from, that carry forward, which is a subtle mechanism that invokes architectural precedent and the impact of cultural influence seen over time. This book is a worthy addition to any collection that supports undergraduate and graduate studies in architecture.