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"The Century's Triumph in Lighting": The Luxfer Prism Companies and Their Contribution to Early Modern Architecture

Dietrich Neumann
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Vol. 54, No. 1 (Mar., 1995), pp. 24-53
DOI: 10.2307/991024
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/991024
Page Count: 30
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"The Century's Triumph in Lighting": The Luxfer Prism Companies and Their Contribution to Early Modern Architecture
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Abstract

Prismatic glass, which was a highly successful building material in the United States between the turn of the century and the 1920s, promised to refract daylight from the façades deep into a building and thus would help to save energy, create healthier working environments, and contribute to the development of a new modern architecture. The Luxfer Prism Companies were the inventors and most prominent producers of this material. The article examines selected examples of the firms' commissions in the U. S. and abroad to show the influence that both a product's real or assumed qualities and the promoting skills of its producers could have on the formal and structural decisions of architects. These projects present the architect less as the dominating force in the design process than as a participant in a complex dialogue among different partners. Luxfer contributed to the contemporary architectural debate by promoting the small-scale pattern of its glass installations as a competing vision of architectural modernity to that of the emerging aesthetic of steel and glass façades. In the early 1930s prismatic glass finally lost the competition with electrical lighting and new structural daylighting devices such as hollow glass blocks.

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