Disc of Flint Glass, Chance Brothers and Co. at the Great Exhibition, 1851, Rijksmuseum

‘GLASS, The Engine of Progress’ is an exhibition at Het Nieuwe Instituut about how glass extends the eye into the heavens, around the world, through the human body and down into the depths of the microcosmos. Wonder about the material that developed along with our curiosity to spur on progress and topple world views.

The show features great work by Sabine Marcelis & Brit van Nerven, Phil Procter, heirs Bouvy, Arnout Visser, Overtreders W, John Dollond, Arnout Meijer, Duran Group, Andries Copier, David Derksen, NEXT architects, Heinrich Geißler, El Ultimo Grito, Bertjan Pot, Hella Jongerius, Experimental Jetset, Raw Color and many more.

The modular exhibition design is based on four different types of wooden planks and two types of steel trusses that are riveted together. By combining and placing these elements in combination with large sheets of glass and luxaflex diverse structures appear that define the space and function as walls, displays and vitrines.

First show for school children at the Jena Planetarium with the ZEISS Model Ⅱ projector 1926. Carl Zeiss Archive
USA-129 KH 10 Sep 2005, 19:59:00.00 & 19:59:00.04, Ralf Vandenbergh, 2005
Photo Lotte Stekelenburg

Following our idea that the exhibition should really try to express its ideas through objects we went of to find pieces that would embody the story of how glass extended the eye and consequently made the modern world. This made us turn to the depots of famed scientific museums like Teylers Museum, Museum Boerhaave and University Museum Utrecht to gather historical objects that resonate in contemporary design and society. Next to this we were interested in lifting the hierarchies between different types of makers.

Historical objects sit next to experiments by contemporary designers across an industrial product. The objects are related through matching material properties or how they have been worked, hardly ever through purpose. Among the highlights are a quartet of Blaschka glass-models. A pure silicate glass preform that is used in the industry to pull thousands of kilometers of optical fibreglass and Hella Jongerius’ Knitted Lamp experiments.

We asked type designer Benjamin Sporken to design a custom font that is a contemporary re-imagination of 19th century grotesk types. Paxton is conceived to be the work-horse for the exhibition, having to convey captions as well as large introductory texts and (sub)titles. The font features a large set of glyphs, including very specific typographic marks like a No sign, Roman numerals and special ligatures for all these th’s in ‘19th century’.As the visual research for the font started of by carefully examining a range of examples of types that were being used in the exhibits of the Great Exhibition of the Industry of the Nations of 1851, we thought it apt to name it after the architect of its pavilion, the Crystal Palace: Joseph Paxton.

‘Geißler’ is used as a headline font to display the titles in the exhibitions. The font is based on the banners that were used to denominate the different countries and categories in the Crystal Palace as they are depicted in the Dickinsons’ comprehensive pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851.Geißler is fittingly named after Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Geißler, the German glassblower whose skills enabled him to come up with the decorative Geißler-tube, that turned out to be the origin of not only radiant neon lighting, the discovery of the electron as well as the X-ray.

World’s Fair Brass Rail Bar glass fibre ’canopy‘, Victor Lundy, New York, 1964

For the images in the ‘Glass: Engine of Progress’ exhibition we delved into a diverse group of international archives. Ranging from the corporate Carl Zeiss Archive, to the International Institute of Social History and from the Vatican Archives to the impressive Science and Society Picture Library as well as the National Glasmuseum Leerdam among others.

Next to these ‘institutional’ sources we have a profound interest in images produced and collected outside of professional systems. This resulted in us being able to show a couple of images by an employee of the Caltech optical shop and the research work done on the classified Keyhole satellites by ‘amateur’ astronomers.