PLEXIGLAS® roof of gas station, TH Darmstadt

© Evonik Industries AG, Konzernarchiv Hanau

New materials for the construction boom during the economic miracle years

Whether in factory skylights or in deck roofs at home, PLEXIGLAS® products such as corrugated sheets, stretched PLEXIGLAS® and multi-skin sheets dominated the architecture of the 1950s to the 1970s.

Illuminated façades, skylights, carports: PLEXIGLAS® can be seen everywhere on houses today. This development was not foreseeable at the beginning of the 1950s, despite the development of the material coming along in leaps and bounds at this time. Thanks to its diverse properties, PLEXIGLAS® quickly gained popularity with architects and developers and found ever increasing use in building construction.

Indoor and outdoor applications

Skylights provided a source of natural light in rooms, corrugated sheets protected external areas from wind and weather, and multi-skin sheets revolutionized the construction of greenhouses. Whether in industrial or private construction, new products made from PLEXIGLAS® were an integral part of architecture from the 1950s onward. 

Numerous design possibilities 

The brand acrylic glass from Röhm, at the time still Röhm & Haas, was very popular in the 1950s and 1960s thanks to its diverse properties which enabled brand new designs. It was now possible to manufacture curved PLEXIGLAS® sheets, for example. In addition, cast PLEXIGLAS® sheets were already available at the time in numerous variants, ranging from colorless, white and structured versions to dyed sheets in many different colors. From April 1956, flat, extruded sheets produced using a sheet die were available in white. They sheets were referred to as PLEXIGLAS® XT. The material was even available in DIY stores from the 1960s. 

Energy-efficient construction

The researchers at Röhm & Haas continued to drive forward the development of the material over the following years. One of the innovative solutions from PLEXIGLAS® were multi-skin sheets, which captured air between two sheets. This development particularly revolutionized greenhouse construction thanks to the sheets’ good insulation properties when used as a glazing element. An initial test at the end of the 1960s was an immediate success. The first harvest exceeded all expectations, enabling an earlier start of harvesting and increased yield, while cutting heating costs in winter by 50 percent. Multi-skin sheets soon dominated the market for commercial greenhouses, but were also used as roofing elements in private and industrial construction. Skylights, deck roofs and bridge cladding are just a few of the numerous areas of application for multi-skin sheets.

Research and development

To meet the growing requirements of the architectural sector, Röhm & Haas set up an independent application technology laboratory in 1959. In addition, an internal group of architects was established to support the growing demand for consultations with processors and developers, and foster collaboration with architects.

More interior light

In the 1950s and 1960s, PLEXIGLAS® skylights were widely used as lighting elements in flat roofs, particularly in large buildings. Rooms which previously required artificial lighting were now bathed in natural light. This led to improved working conditions in production halls, which were springing up everywhere during the years of the economic miracle. The curved skylights had another advantage, namely the lack of cleaning required due to their shape. Rainwater ran off them, clearing dust and dirt that would otherwise build up on flat skylights. The inherent rigidity of the skylights also made frames redundant.

Safe and transparent

Another new product was introduced to the market at the beginning of the 1960s. Using a complex and elaborate method, it was possible to stretch PLEXIGLAS® for the first time. This made the material even more robust, while also improving its impact resistance and increasing its chemical stability. Today, stretched PLEXIGLAS® sheets are used for example in the aviation industry, while different versions of PLEXIGLAS® are currently used as architectural highlights, including illuminated façades, giant, curved viewing windows in aquariums and in amazing stadiums.

Olympic Stadium in Munich with spectators during the 1972 Summer Olympic Games

A roof for the Olympic Stadium in Munich

Stretched PLEXIGLAS® played an important role in the construction of the roof of Munich’s Olympic Stadium. The brand acrylic glass from Röhm was the only material which provided sufficient light transmission and could be placed over the cable net.

© Evonik Industries AG, Konzernarchiv Hanau