El vidrio y sus máscaras: El sueño de la arquitectura de cristal

Translated title of the contribution: Glass and its Masks: The Dream of Crystal Architecture

Rosana Rubio Hernandez

Research output: Book/ReportDoctoral thesisMonograph


According to Heidegger, the essence of architecture, building, lies in a non-space: the material that creates the boundaries from which something begins its presencing, radiating onto them that which characterizes them. If there is any single material amongst all those used throughout the history of architecture to build boundaries which has maintained a special relationship with light and vision, which has bestowed a distinctive character on spaces avid for them, it is glass. This is evidenced in some of its etymologies: zakû (to be clear), hyalos (transparent), vitrum (see). The rich potential of this fascinating way of relating to light in the history of the architectural use of glass, and even before, is possibly what has triggered the illusion in human imagination of being something that can ultimately sublimate all others, giving rise to what in this thesis we call The 'Dream' of Crystal Architecture. Given that light is always energy, in this thesis we consider energy-light to be that which illuminates and warms. This is scientific, measurable light. When light "becomes visible" and reveals a message “contained” in glass, we speak of information-light. This light cannot be measured scientifically. Energy-light and information-light are manifested under the spell of glass architecture. The latter is what has shaped the boundaries of coloured glass, which is studied in this thesis. Architecture's different ways of using the infinite combinations of the absorptance, reflectance, transmittance and translucency of glass has affected the way we humans "see" the world. Sometimes we are "immersed" in it, since only an invisible, transparent boundary separates us from it: this use of glass has characterized a considerable part of 20th century architecture. In other cases, in order to "isolate" us from it, we have manipulated light and glass to build different worlds: the boundaries of glass "masked" by colour, mosaics, stained glass, screens and what we have called complex glazing, which plays a similar role to what Schiller attributed to the chorus in Greek tragedy, isolating it from the "real world" in order to maintain its poetic license. These are the boundaries that have built the viable dream of crystal architecture. These two approaches have been different ways of making same dream come true at different times in the history of architecture. The ability of glass to adapt to so many forms of manifestation, and interpretation, is what has given rise to the title of the thesis. Even in its most transparent facet, glass has one way or another always been a masking material in the broadest sense of the word: it is masked even when it invites transparency or becomes a mirror, triggering the illusion that it is not present. When man began to build glass boundaries, and even before, when he dreamed that he could build them, he condensed in them all the mythology, mysticism and epistemology concerning light and vision, which gave rise to a series of architectural archetypes. In the Byzantine church, light on or from mosaics created tenuous boundaries. In Gothic cathedrals, the light through the stained glass windows constructed radiant boundaries. In both cases the aim was to achieve, in an anagogical way, the Intelligible. In the 19th, the discovery of electricity and its use in architecture led to the production of dazzling boundaries, in this case employed in urban spaces. Earlier in the same century, the Gothic spirit had a short-lived revival, which in the early 20th century drew from crystalline expressionism in which anagogic light became secular. The dazzling urban space prefigured by this movement, present in cities since the early 20th century, was intensified in the mid-century with the emergence of screens, and since then it has spread unstoppably across the world. The recent emergence of complex glasses has made it possible to build boundaries on demand in glass with multiple properties, chosen at will and at whim at any time. Initially it was thought that the use of this glass as a wall could eventually become the panacea for the material problems related to energy-light, without needing to resort to "prosthesis" and thereby maintain the seductive smoothness of the facade. For now, that possibility seems remote, to say the least. In the realm of urban megascreens and information screens in general, now ubiquitous in our lives, complex glasses help to build the thick veils of illusion which, according to Lefebvre, serve to maintain capitalism. Like an inexorable metronome, in counterpoint, this ultimate state of technological development imposed by man's principle of economy has in fact always accompanied (again in the words of Lefebvre), the need to spend, play, fight, art, and party. Technology and art are part of the culture produced by society. As Levi-Strauss says, this culture imposes order. On the contrary, society, understood as a set of relationships amongst people, produces disorder. Progress, including that of architecture, arises from the balance between these two extremes. The glass boundaries analyzed in this thesis, which propitiate spaces for spirituality, pomp and spectacle or, from a different perspective, for the various manifestations of power: the church, the monarchy, the state and the market, have also emerged from the concomitance of order and disorder. One aspect of this disorder is the adventure that has inspired the individual genius of mystics, alchemists, surveyors, abbots, kings, inventors, poets and architects to explore, as Apollinaire says, vast, strange domains where flowering mystery offers itself to whoever wishes to pluck it, new fires, colours you have never seen before, a thousand intangible phantasms still awaiting reality.
Translated title of the contributionGlass and its Masks: The Dream of Crystal Architecture
Original languageSpanish
Number of pages870
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes
Publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • Glass
  • Light
  • Architecture
  • Colour
  • Stained glass
  • Mosaic
  • Bizantine Architecture
  • Gothic Architecture
  • Times Square
  • Expresionist Architecture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • Architecture


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