In 1913, Walter Gropius completed an unusual shoe-last factory in the sleepy German town of Alfeld-an-der-Leine, and ever since, architects have been obsessed with building glass boxes. Alfeld is where glass-wall architecture quite literally turned the corner, dematerializing what had always been the most solid part of a building into ethereal lightness. Gropius's factory wasn't the first glass box, of course. Long before came London's vast Crystal Palace, built at Hyde Park for the Great Exposition of 1851. Its designer, Joseph Paxton, was a landscape gardener already known for his innovative cast-iron framed conservatories.With the exposition short on time, Paxton ingeniously conceived the 990,000-square-foot building as a gigantic prefabricated greenhouse. Thereafter, others used glass in innovative ways. But it was Gropius who showed architects just how much fun they could have with it. Alas, the real brilliance of his design -- its elegant juxtaposition of solid mass...
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