Refraction House: A Contemporary Depiction of Glass Blocks in Jakarta

September 3, 2021



Maria Rebecca Abaya

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Glass blocks have been used as a construction material since the 1930’s. It was at the brink of death in the design world in the late ‘90s, but is now booming again. With its original patent filed in 1907, the glass blocks have proven their long history of usability. Its attributes of durability, insulating properties, and most importantly its translucent properties that admit lighting while maintaining visual privacy make it an ideal building material. It is also considered a highly sustainable material as it is recyclable, it reduces energy use for artificial lighting, and it’s an excellent insulator as well that reduces the cost of heating. As glass blocks continue to evolve and be perfected with the use of the latest technologies, its supporting materials like the mortars and silicones that seal its connections have also been continually improved resulting in a permanent storm- and fire-resistant barrier.

Located in Jakarta, the Refraction House exhibits a stunning façade composed of different glass blocks combinations, creating a unique landmark within the neighborhood. Lead architect Antonius Richard of RAD+ar, or Research Artistic Design + Architecture, had to address design constraints of the existing house that is situated in a long deep lot that’s also facing east and west which is not favorable to achieving sustainability in tropical countries like Indonesia. By reversing the site orientation’s weakness into a more beneficial characteristic, the strategic placements of glass blocks from the front all the way to internal open areas ensure maximum lighting to penetrate every corner of the house. As the light within increases, the heat transmission also decreases by being airtight reducing heat transfer, unlike the regular windows.

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With the limited space for a front yard garden, the architects maximized it by spreading the greens on the sides and created seating areas where residents can comfortably hang out.

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The subtle break of the full cladded glass block wall provides simple access towards the mini garden at the spacious balcony, which serves as a transition space from the outside to the inner spaces of the house.

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An ample-sized backyard garden in Refraction House was created to allow maximum lighting and ventilation for the spaces at the rear that was constrained by the maxed-out property line.

The garden is fully open to also address the needs for natural lighting and ventilation of the second-floor areas thus also create an eye-soothing view of the greens on the open deck.

Aside from the privacy, lighting benefits, and good thermal insulation, the glass blocks in Refraction House are placed at the front. This helps with lessening the noise that comes from the public road. The glass blocks, having hollow sections, also feature sound-deadening qualities, making the house a more peaceful place to stay. In terms of security, glass blocks are also harder to break than regular windows. Another wonder of the use of glass blocks is that even at night, when the house is fully lighted, privacy is still maintained and the house just beautifully glows.

Another design approach taken was to provide open-air balconies and terraces both in the front and back. Not only the lighting is addressed, but also the free flow of natural air within. These open areas are also maximized with green elements, but with the consideration of not blocking the illumination to enter the house. Also, these areas serve as transitional spaces from the exterior to the interior spaces, adding up to the security of the house.

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The muted colors of the furnishings complement the white walls and translucent glass blocks exuding a clean contemporary living area.

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Using a contrasting color for accents gives more warmth to the interior spaces.

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Residents enjoy the ideal amount of natural light without compromising privacy in Refraction House.

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A well-lighted and well-ventilated bedroom makes the residents’ rest more desirable.

The house is composed of two floors, with the common areas mainly on the ground level and bedrooms on the second level. Upon entry, visitors are welcomed by the guest room which is actually convertible into one big entertainment space with the connection of the music room by opening the full-height glass sliding doors. This layout also helps the residents control their guests from straight away barging into the more private areas of the house.

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During the transformation of Refraction House, the majority of the structure was retained, and unnecessary elements were simplified and minimized. The architects opted to go basic and emphasize functionality which is now very important in the overall wellness of everyday living. The house renovation was completely finished in 2021.

Article Credits: 

All Drawings by RAD+ar (Research Artistic Design + Architecture) ©

All Images by William Sutanto ©

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