There is artistry and inspiration found in the unique style of glass honed in the 20th century that brought light in, around, and under. While it was born through function, today we enjoy it for the fashion. Originally crafted to solve the struggle of limited light in the underbelly of ocean crossing ships, prism glass absorbs the outdoor light, pulls it in, and disperses it through the interior of the designated space. The fact that the end result was stunning even then is a total bonus.
When this type of glass is used today, it is a representation of an era that valued quality, ingenuity, and sustainability. Today we use this glass on many of our Landmarks doors produced for the FDNY with the same values in mind: quality, ingenuity, and sustainability. Let's take a closer look at prism glass.
What is Prism Glass
Prism glass is an architectural glass which bends and redirects daylight through refraction and reflection. If you aren't thinking of Pink Floyd's album, the Dark Side of the Moon, we will have to talk later; however, many of us are familiar with the single beam of white light hitting the triangular prism and splitting the beam into its individual parts thus creating the rainbow. This iconic representation may be the most widely known (at least by music and cultural standards) depiction of how light refraction works.
This innovation in glass became common around the turn of the 20th century. The first patent for prism glass described it in this way: "Whereby the reflection of the light into the room is considerably increased without increasing the size of the window." It elaborated to state the innovation would "double the quantity of reflection or illumination."
At this time (1882), Edison had formed the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York which was, (albeit slowly) bringing electricity to much of Manhattan. During the transition, many people still relied on gas light and candles to illuminate their homes. It was some 50 years before half of New Yorkers were able to incorporate electric power into their homes. It's no wonder this innovation was applied to rooms and spaces beneath sidewalks and entryways as New Yorkers awaited their Edison electricity!
The same was true of structures of the time such as firehouses. In many cases, prism glass was used to shine light from the front of the building into the living space and the basement of the structure. Many firehouses were known to have removable floors inside the door that would illuminate the basement.
A walk through the streets of New York's five boroughs will undoubtedly bring you past one of the 197 Engine Houses associated with the FDNY. Most of the doors you will see have been manufactured by Fimbel either then or now. Together with our team at Thompson Overhead Door in Brooklyn, the FDNY, and the Landmark Society of New York, we bring the facades of historic firehouses back to life with stunning commercial garage doors that look like art. Utilizing block prism glass is one way that we incorporate art, function, and history into our vinyl and composite constructed doors. Our low maintenance products have the look of painted wood and are built to last.