Restoring Glass Block in Youngstown

Restoring Glass Block in Youngstown 

Some of our favorite ventures are renovating projects in our local area. Being a company located in the Cleveland/Akron area, we were thrilled to be chosen for an assignment in Youngstown, Ohio, only 65 miles from our office.

We were awarded the assignment of renovating the glass block at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor. The museum focuses on honoring and displaying the history of the manufacturing industry in the Ohio area. Ranging from the iron industries of the 1800s, to the steel industries taking power starting in the 1890s, to the significant decline throughout the 1970s that the city is still working hard to overcome; Youngstown was a central point in the manufacturing industry. This museum proudly preserves it.

Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor glass

The people that worked in the steel mills are the same breed of blue-collar workers that we have working tirelessly for GBA Architectural Products + Services today. Being a manufacturing company, we appreciate the work the museum does, and are immensely honored to have been selected.

This museum was opened in 1990, built under the architectural firm Michael Graves Architecture & Design, a long-time company that still produces amazing work. The design of the building is to replicate a steel mill built with smoke stacks. The layout of the entire building is intended to have a classic style that coincides with the time period, which conveniently ties in with glass block.

A great resource for factories, the glass block in the early 20th century was very useful for its prism effect that transferred the dispersion of light throughout the inside of buildings. It became especially prevalent in the 1930s during the Great Depression. It was low cost and provided a modern style. Setting glass block in steel mountings was especially fruitful as it allowed areas below to be illuminated without the need for artificial lighting.

Renovating the Museum

The architect for the renovation is Meta von Rabenau, Senior Architect a Ohio History Connection, the organization that owns the museum. They are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that focuses on preserving and sharing the state’s history to the public.

After 30 years, the glass block was in need of replacement. Rabenau helped describe the situation, “Some of the glass blocks were cracked and moisture was coming in. There was mildew and disintegration. Glass and steel have different expansion factors. With the south and eastern portions, the outer and under rim were falling apart. They were getting bad.”

glass block decay

A major benefit cited for the renovation is that glass block today is built with higher quality than it was 30 years ago.

One of our long-time glass block experts, Senior Estimator Pete Ranieri, agrees, “There is more of a selection. They’re being manufactured from a modernized plant, which minimizes the intolerances and slight imperfections.”

He continues, “Today’s manufacturers are using more modern equipment. Seves Glassblock, being the global leader in manufacturing and design, they’ve invested quite a bit in maintaining quality control.”

Anton E. Kava, Seves Glassblock President and CEO, adds, “This technology consists of ‘optical scanners’ that scans the blocks during the production process to find small imperfections, and removes the products from the production line that do not meet quality control standards set forth by the company.”

The glass block structure that we renovated is shaped like an octagon. The glass framing surrounds a curved stairway, leading from an outdoor entrance to the top of the stairwell.

The type of glass block used was 12x12x4 (width x height x thickness) Nubio Seves Glassblock, as well as 8x8x4 Nubio Seves Glassblock.

Not all of the glass block needed replaced, actually just 10% of it. The caulk was replaced with a more modern type that uses better technology. The entire upside was sealed which reduces the water penetration of mortar. We also remediated any steel that was damaged.

Among the challenges is the simple fact that it’s on stairs, and doesn’t have even footing for scaffold. You also need glass block that properly matches with the original, as well as matching mortar. Both of these require preparation.

glass block youngstown

The process is always the same for every project:

  1. Determining what needs done in the project.
  • It’s as important as doing it. The detailing and dimensioning process, as well as determining the glass block required for the project. How much is needed. What supplies and mortar are needed. The man-power required, etc.
  1. Executing what needs to be done in the project.
  • Physically bringing the supplies, which is not as simple as it might sound. This one has the convenience of being local. Much of the time our crews travel across the country so you have to be sure all equipment and materials required to complete the project are loaded on our trucks. Then, mobilizing on site, unloading the trucks, setting up scaffold and performing the work in an efficient and professional process so as not to be disruptive to any other trades, building owner or visitors.

On contracting GBA Architectural Products + Services to be the installer for the project, Rabenau states, “We needed somebody that had experience and knew what they were doing […] GBA was best qualified. Known to be specialized.”


The Museum

Hours and Cost information valid as of September 24, 2019

We highly recommend visiting the museum. They have amazing exhibits. You can expect it to take about an hour to visit the whole thing.

“We have approximately 5,100 visitors per year and do outreach to various schools, organizations and facilities,” states Site Manager Marcelle Wilson, “The most popular exhibits are the company house, locker room and overlook of the blooming pulpit.”

Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor

Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor


Contact GBA Architectural Products + Services

GBA Architectural Products + Services participates in renovation projects in both public and commercial sectors. GBA is a specialty contractor that has the ability and expertise to construct any size glass block or structural glass project.

Our contact numbers to talk with our GBA experts:

Midwest: (877)-280-7700

East Coast: (212)-255-5787

West Coast: (213)-634-7050


More stories about past installation projects similar to Restoring Glass Block in Youngstown:

Denver: Installing Glass Block in Denver

Fort Worth: Adding Glass Block to the Fort Worth Skyline (Pioneer Tower)


Tags: Glass Block