MODERN WONDERS of an Ancient Art Part II (Jul, 1936)

You can read part I here.

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MODERN WONDERS of an Ancient Art Part II


Part II

IMAGINE a metal house coated with glass, a home with all the delicate coloring and enduring beauty, inside and out, of age-old cloisonne.

The development of porcelain enameled iron for architectural purposes makes such a home both possible and practical. As a building material, porcelain enameled iron—actually a form of glass fused on to a metal base—offers an admirable union of utility and beauty for it possesses the strength of metal plus the hardness and permanence of glass. It can be produced in any hue or combination of hues in the mineral spectrum, it is colorfast, impervious to weather, non-porous, rustproof and can be made acid-resisting. And it is good for a lifetime of service.

In the past six or seven years, several types of buildings have been designed iii which preformed porcelain enameled panels are laid over a steel or wood frame, or its equivalent in the frameless type of construction. Architects also have applied the material successfully to interior surfaces and obtained a rare combination of permanence and lasting beauty.

One of the earliest uses of porcelain enameled metal for exterior construction work was in the form of roofing shingles. Produced in a variety of designs and colors, this permanent and fireproof roof covering indicated the possibilities of the same material for exterior wall surfaces. One of the first problems faced by builders attempting to cover walls with procelain enameled iron was how to attach the panels to the frame.

At least half a dozen independent methods of fastening the sheets to the framework have been devised, ranging from patented keylocking attachments fabricated into the framework to interlocking channel sections and metal strips of special design to accommodate and secure the panels. Most types of porcelain enameled building panels are backed with insulation and provision also is made in most cases for a layer of insulating material between the enameled panels and the wall framework. Model homes with exterior surfaces of porcelain enameled metal were exhibited at Chicago’s Century of Progress, one house having enameled panels held in place by wall beads of simple design, while another had panels backed by a cement-like base.

Porcelain enamel as a material for sheathing the exteriors of buildings has been found to supply all the permanence of glass, while at the same time offering a welcome solution to the modern demand for color. While thus far it has been used mostly as an exterior surface for small buildings, many architects see a bright future for it in great commercial structures, notably as a decorative tool. That porcelain enamel lends itself admirably to ornamentation is exemplified by the huge mural ornaments, eighteen feet in diameter, decorating the outer walls of Radio City, sixty feet above the sidewalk. Perhaps mull ions, spandrels, moldings, pillars, pilasters, sills, sash, trim and extruded shapes in door panels and walls in our office buildings of the future may be endowed with the grace and beauty of this ancient material.

The material is finding an even wider application for interior finish and decoration. The kitchen which once boasted a porcelain enameled sink or stove and a few pans now may be porcelain enamel from floor to ceiling. Multi-tone wall panels of porcelain enameled metal offer an opportunity for design and color treatment which can transform kitchens and bathrooms into cubicles of arresting beauty. Properly used, porcelain enamel with a natural wood or marble finish also finds its way into other rooms.

One of the first architectural applications of porcelain enamel, and one of the most important today, was in the construction of gasoline filling stations. It was found that the material was adaptable to ornate design, colors were permanent and could be carried out in the same material in signs and pumps, construction was simple and the entire building could be taken apart and moved to a new location, if necessary, at comparatively low cost.

Another early application of the material by builders, and one constantly gaining favor, was in the designing or remodeling of shop and store fronts. Since there is no limit to the colors or designs in which porcelain enamel can be fashioned, and since it has a high reflectance, it offers an opportunity for a pleasing alliance between architecture, lighting and advertising appeal in planning a shop to stop the shoppers.

In addition to helping get the customers into the shop, porcelain enamel is aiding in selling them after they enter. In shops where cleanliness, durability and “eye appeal” are particularly desirable, fixtures, counters, display cases and walls are often of porcelain enamel. In such places as drug stores, barber shops, meat markets and restaurants, it has been found that the material, in addition to being sanitary and easy to keep clean, adds to the attractiveness of the shops, particularly where pleasing color contrasts in enamel are employed.

Heretofore, porcelain enameled sinks and bath tubs have been made of cast iron porcelain enameled. Porcelain enameled pressed metal sinks and bath tubs are now also available. The pressed metal products claim light weight as their chief advantage.

When it is considered that only a century ago porcelain enamel was virtually unknown except as a finish for costly jewelry and ornaments, it is difficult to predict the future of this product which was ancient when Columbus discovered America. Many of its architectural applications still are in the experimental stage, but in view of what has already been accomplished it is not unreasonable to expect that its field of usefulness will be extended even farther in the next decade than in the past one.

So, since you may expect porcelain enamel to serve you in more and more ways, here are a few simple things to keep in mind in buying and using porcelain enameled products: In the first place, know you are getting porcelain enameled ware when you ask for it, and not something covered with “enamel” paint. Porcelain enamel cannot be cut or scratched by a coin or pin scraped across its surface, whereas paints and lacquers fail under such a test.

On such products as table tops and sinks, where fruit juices and other acids come in contact with the working surfaces, it is desirable to ask for “acid resisting” porcelain enamel, which is especially designed to resist the action of such acids.

One of the outstanding features of porcelain enamel is the ease with which it may be cleaned. A damp cloth or one dipped in soapy water cleans a porcelain enameled surface quickly and easily. If the dirt or grime is a bit tenacious, however, ordinary cleaning compounds can be used.

Porcelain enamel is essentially glass and any cleaners or solutions that you would ordinarily use on a plate-glass mirror can be safely used for cleaning it.

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