Dalle de Verre Walls Preservation

Jewel Box: Creation and Preservation of Dalle de Verre Walls by Gabriel Loire

The Second building that was erected on the Bacardi company campus in Miami, Florida, where the international spirits firm relocated after the fall of Cuba, was the “Jewel Box”, a fascinating 1973 Modernist structure by Ignacio Carrera-Justiz. The starkly simple geometry of the building: a two story rectangle suspended over an open plaza from a small square core, contradicts its starkly minimalist form by being faced on all sides with brilliantly colored Dalle de Verre walls designed by Johannes Dietz and created by the Atelier Loire, a pioneering firm in the development of the technique. The walls are created of 528 pre-cast panels using an epoxy bedding grout to encase the hammered-edged colored glass slugs. The panels are further enlivened on the exterior with colored sand, gravel and paint. Although similar in design, each face has different color palettes and, of course, all of the glass is uniquely hand-made.

The engineering, whereby the floors are hung from beams embedded in the concrete roof deck, allows for open floors around the service core on each floor, producing an immersive lighting effect of the facetted glass walls throughout. During the day, the interior is vibrant with the Miami sunlight sparkling through the walls while at night the entire structure glows outward as a brilliant, crystalline work of art.

In preparation for conversion of the “Jewel Box” into art-, music- and dance studios the National Young Arts Foundation, who assumed possession of the Bacardi Complex, commissioned a study and restoration plan for the glass walls. In addition to their wish to preserve this astonishing structure, the owners needed to effectively deaden sound within the building for rehearsal spaces by installing glass walls within the original Dalle de Verre walls.

Through communications with the Atelier Loire, currently under 3rd generation ownership, on-site survey and inspection, and research, a plan was developed to clean and conserve the walls consistent with the client’s goals and current best practice. Work is projected to include gentle cleaning, vacuum induced grouting and filling of cracks in the grout, minimal glass replacement and repair of sealants. The work began inthe  Spring of 2015 and was completed by the time of the symposium. The presentation highlighted the Dalle de Verre walls of this extraordinary building, their condition after 40 years exposure to tropical climate and hurricanes, the restoration plans, and results of the treatment.