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Kenneth von Roenn: The Architectural Application of Expressive Glass

Talking Out Your Glass podcast

Release Date: 09/28/2023

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Kenneth von Roenn Jr. has designed and executed more than 1,500 commissions in the U. S., Middle East, Far East, Europe, Canada and Mexico. His work has been published in more than 75 books, magazines, and digital publications, and he has received more than 25 awards for work, including two hall of fames and lifetime achievement for the state of Kentucky. Von Roenn has also written and lectured on the topics of art in architecture, the evolution of architectural glass art, and the development and concerns of public art. 

This Sunday, October 1, 2023, von Roenn will present examples of the architectural application of expressive glass and an introduction of what is on the horizon at the Stained Glass Association of America’s conference, Forging New Paths, held September 27 – October 1, 2023 in Buffalo, New York. Also, a new documentary film of von Roenn’s work by the noted film maker Sam Halstead has just been released.

Says von Roenn: “As an architect, I am primarily concerned with the sympathetic relationship between my works of art and the buildings of which they are but a part and parcel. Harmonious integration is achieved when the work expresses a visual dialogue with the architecture by responding to the particular character and specific needs of a building.” 

Von Roenn was born in 1948 in Louisville, Kentucky. As a young man, his interests were athletic, primarily in springboard and platform diving. He attended Florida State University on a full athletic scholarship, while also pursuing his interests in fine art, philosophy and English, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1970. 

Beginning his career in glass later that year at Louisville Art Glass, von Roenn was promoted to General Manager and in 1975 to President of the studio. In the early ‘70s he was an active member of the Stained Glass Association of America, serving on the executive committee and also as chairman of the publications committee. During this period, he compiled a body of innovative architectural glass artwork and established the studio as one of the most aesthetically and technically progressive in the country. He wrote regularly for several magazines on the topic of glass in architecture and taught courses in architectural art at the University of Kentucky School of Architecture from 1974 to ‘76. 

Recognizing a need to pursue his evolving interest in architecture, von Roenn took a leave of absence from the studio in 1977 to pursue a master’s degree in architecture at Yale University, graduating in 1981. While at Yale, von Roenn further developed his interest in architectural art through work with the architect/sculptor Kent Bloomer, which was culminated with his independent thesis entitled, “The Primary Modalities of Art’s Relationship to Architecture: Integration, Juxtaposition and Synthesis.” While still in graduate school he founded in 1979 the von Roenn Studio Group in Branford, Connecticut, which designed and produced glass, architecture, graphics and furniture, executing commissions nationally and internationally. 

In 1983, von Roenn returned to Louisville and worked for two architectural firms before establishing an architectural practice with two partners to form Bailey, Preston, von Roenn Architecture. Also at this time he returned to competitive diving, which culminated with winning 10 National Championship titles and two World Championship titles, setting two world records at the age of 41. Having achieved his earliest goal of becoming a world champion, von Roenn turned his exclusive attention to his true passion, expressive glass in architecture. 

Recognizing a need for the development of expressive architectural glass, in 1991 von Roenn bought the Louisville Art Glass Studio and renamed it Architectural Glass Art, Inc. He expanded and reorganized the company, redirecting its focus on new roles and opportunities for glass in architecture. The studio quickly became recognized for its innovative application of new technologies in the execution of architectural glass art. Within the studio he served as the director of design and CEO/President, managing a staff of 30 and directing the exploration and development of techniques and technologies in glass fabrication. Von Roenn designed, and his studio produced, the world’s largest glass sculpture, which crowns the top of the 3 Wells Fargo Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. This work weighs more than 500,000 pounds, can be seen from miles away and is designed to withstand hurricane force winds. 

In the late ‘90s, von Roenn’s desire to expand the studio led to his search for a new space. During this period, he joined with a group of developers and investors interested in the revitalization of downtown Louisville as well as the region’s firm commitment to the arts. The group, guided by von Roenn’s vision of a multipurpose glass facility, formulated a concept for Glassworks. From the original idea of a new home for Architectural Glass Art, von Roenn created a space for more than 50 glass artists to work and sell their art. He owned and oversaw the two galleries, a public workshop, a tour program, a special events program, the glass blowing studio, and a mobile glass blowing van powered by vegetable oil, all of which comprised Glassworks. More than 125,000 people visited Glassworks annually, which made it one of Louisville’s most popular tourist attractions. In 2012 von Roenn sold his interest in Glassworks to focus his attention exclusively on architectural glass art. 

In addition to designing his own projects, von Roenn has also collaborated with several significant artists on major projects including Al Held, Jose Bedia, Laura Battle, Thomas Sayre, and Jennifer Bartlett. He has also worked with many of the leading American architects including Cesar Pelli, Charles Moore, William Turnbull, Thomas Ventulett, Graham Gund, Turan Duda, Gyo Obata, David Rockwell, Peter Marino, Mark Simon, to name a few. 

Von Roenn’s work has been published in numerous books and in many major architecture magazines, including a feature article on his work in Architecture magazine. He has lectured extensively throughout North America and Canada and has written dozens of articles on art and architecture. Von Roenn has received numerous awards, including the Faith and Form Visual Arts Grand Award, American Crafts Award for Architectural Art, the AIA Allied Professional Award, the DuPont Benedictus Award, the Corning Museum Award, the Al Smith Fellowship, Tau Sigma Delta Architecture Fraternity Award, five Ministry & Liturgy’s Bene Awards and 10 CODAworx Awards. In addition, von Roenn received the Crystal Award for his design of a glass bridge for the Louisville arena. This project has been recognized as a technological tour de force for the way in which artistic glass was used as a primary structural element for the bridge. He has been inducted into the American Glass Hall of Fame as well as the Atherton High School Hall of Fame and was named one the 25 most influential art professionals in the Midwest by Dialogue magazine. He was presented with the Governor’s Award in the Arts for Lifetime Achievement in 2011 by the governor of Kentucky, which is the highest honor bestowed on a Kentucky artist. 

In 2013 von Roenn decided it was time to begin to slow down (primarily at the urging of his domestic partner, Ursula Vourvoulis). He closed Architectural Glass Art and moved to Tallahassee, Florida, to work with Florida State University on the development of a new public art program. At FSU von Roenn also served as the Director of the Master Craftsman Studio as well as the founder of the Public and Architectural Art program. As a professor, von Roenn taught courses in public and architectural art as well as sculpture and creative entrepreneurship. He did not renew his contract with FSU in 2016 so he could once again turn his attention exclusively back to glass. That year, von Roenn was invited to present the keynote address to the American Glass Guild annual conference in Chicago. 

With his move to Florida, von Roenn established Kaiser / von Roenn Studio with his partner Vourvoulis and serves as its Design Director. K/vR Studio’s focus is on large-scale architectural glass projects nationally and internationally. Since its inception in 2013, K/vR Studio has completed major projects in Manilla, Philippines, Dublin, Ireland, Austin, Dallas and El Paso, Texas, Nashville, Tennessee, Denver, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Diego, California, Washington DC and Miami, Florida. He lectures frequently on the topic of public art and its role in communities as well as the role of artistic glass in architecture. 

Says von Roenn: “As an artist and craftsman, I emphasize the poetic expression of glass or acrylic as it is animated with light by enhancing and employing its inherent and intrinsic characteristics and qualities. In developing Fluidity and the Ordered Turbulence pieces, I was primarily concerned with ensuring that the composition involved the viewer mentally and visually in a manner appropriate to its context. I believe that if viewers are to fully understand a thematic concept, they should mentally construct their own meaning, and that my role as both artist and architect is to assist, encourage, inspire and direct that effort.”