Utopia - Modernism -
Glass I

Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’ to Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall

Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, published in 1516, coincided with step change in architectural design and building technology: the development of clear glass windows and the room known as the ‘solar’. There has been an abiding relationship between glass and utopianism, with a particular Modernist sensibility, from the Tudor period up to the present day. In More’s fictional ideal commonwealth of ‘Utopia’ all the buildings have windows, either of glass or oiled cloth, and this was certainly innovative for the time. Glass appeared to cement significant changes in Thought, whether in the idea of Utopianism, or of the Reformation, the Restoration, the Enlightenment or of Modernism itself: glass acted as a means of conveying light and ideas. Medieval stained glass in churches symbolised the Roman Catholic Church, with its kaleidoscope of esoteric visions and religious mysticism, clear glass equated with a modernist approach to religiosity and to Reason itself. Late Tudor architecture such as at Wollaton Hall and Burghley House featured windows that formed almost the entire facade. The stonemason and architect Robert Smythson designed Hardwick Hall which earned the rhyme ‘Hardwick Hall more glass than wall’ demonstrating something of the dominance of glass in country houses built for the wealthy. These late Tudor glass palaces were preceded by the development of the ‘Solar’, not apparently so-named because of its solar-sunlight properties but rather as a corruption of ‘solitary’, that is being suitable for activities such as sewing and drawing, and ‘solars’ would eventually become the ‘drawing room’. ‘Solars’ were often an addition to the dingy interiors provided by castles and manor houses and featured large windows.

The Grade I listed Stokesay Castle in Shropshire, was initially a 13th century fortified manor house, located within the fractious Welsh marchlands, during the Tudor period a ‘solar’ was built as an addition to the lacklustre medieval accommodation. Across the Welsh-English border in Hay on Wye the main castle within the town saw similar adaptations to the outdated medieval fortress during the Stuart dynasty in the 1660s. These modernising additions of glass-faced rooms, and the overall thrust of Tudor and Stuart architecture, placed glass windows at the forefront of technological construction innovation.