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Architects   PIERRE CHAREAU (Together with Bernard Bijvoet)
Date   1928-1932
Address   31 Rue St-Guillaume, Paris, FRANCE
Floor Plan    

Designed by the interior and furniture designer Pierre Chareau with the help of the Dutch archi- tect Bernard Bijvoet, the Maison de Verre offered a strikingly new interpretation of the Modernist vision of the house as a 'machine for living in'. The client was a leading gynaecologist, Dr Dalsace, and his brief called for a combination of private house and medical clinic. The site was a private court in a quiet part of Paris, and the house is wedged in between and under surrounding apartments. The elevations that give the house its name are made largely of the glass bricks that were then associated with public lavatories and pave- ment lights. Laid in four-brick-wide panels, they establish the 91-centimetre (36-inch) module that controls dimensions throughout the design. The blocks might have had utilitarian connotations, but their use was supremely sophisticated, suggesting a delicate veil that appears to hang in space, filter- ing the light and screening the private interior from the world: critics were understandably quick to liken it to the gridded paper screens of tradi- tional Japanese houses. The delicate balance Chareau strikes on the façades between utilitarian materials and exquisite- ly refined abstraction is in marked contrast with

the main structure inside. Made of industrial steel -sections painted with red lead, the columns are forge-beaten, plated together and over-sized. Technically obsolescent, they might have escaped from a nineteenth-century factory but not quite, as they are civilized, if not exactly domesticated, by a revetment of thin slabs of slate fixed to their flat faces. The thick edges of the galvanized steel warm-air ducts laid over the floor beams are simi- larly-visible, beneath a thin coating of studded- rubber flooring. The interior bristles with fascinating technical and visual details: balustrades double as book- cases, a frankly nautical stair is designed to lift up and away when not needed, and electrical wires pass through exposed metal conduits onto which the switches are mounted. In contrast to the delib- erately over-sized column sections, the full-height doors were fabricated with utter economy of means from a single piece of bent sheet-metal; industrial Duralumin was used to make sleekly efficient wardrobes and drawers; and the bath- rooms are screened by curving panels of finely perforated aluminium an idea that found many imitators when the Mason de Verre was re-evaluat- ed in the 1980s.

Toiling away in his workshop to perfect his endlessly innovative interior, Chareau saw the proj- ect as 'a model executed by craftsmen with the aim of industrial standardisation'. In fact, it was too singular for that, and far too dependent upon the skills and values of craftsmen devoted to achieving the highest standards in the quality of their work. Not trained in the complex business of anticipating and resolving In advance the many, potentially conflicting, problems that arise in the course of designing and building, Chareau did not aspire to the 'integrated whole' that IS generally a judged a hallmark of fine architecture. Instead he chose to work additively, addressing difficulties piecemeal as they arose and finding often striking solutions to them hence the exposure of services and the Maison de Verre's fascination for subsequent generations of designers to whom elaborate detailing became a means of enriching architecture and resisting the growing divide between thinking and making.


Weston, Richard, Key buildings of the twentieth century : plans, sections, and elevations, New York : W.W. Norton, 2004



In 1933 Paul Nelson wrote in the magazine L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui that entering the Maison de Verre , or “House of Glass, “ in Paris was like being transported to “another planet.” For contemporary viewers , the house seemed to invert all expectations of domestic architecture , such as obvious comfort and distinct traditionalism. Instead, the Maison de Verre suggested a new path for domestic design that would incorporate modern materials in inventive ways. Yet the building was not the “machine for living” that Chareau’s contemporary Le Corbusier imagined the house would become. Instead of using modern materials mechanistically, Chareau used them in an original way to produce what Pierre Vago  characterised as a “charming fantasy.”

During the late 1920s and ‘30s, domestic architecture in France was subject to a highly politicised debate. Some architects and critics called for a return to the forms of traditional house, such as steeply-pinched roofs and massive stone walls, to enforce a recovery of conservative social and political values. Other demanded that domestic architecture by profoundly reconsidered, and made to incorporate materials like metal and glass as an inexpensive way to meet the critical need for housing. The Maison de Verre was an important model for how the architecture of private residences could be reconceptualised. While Chareau’s design made use of modern materials, it was not as severe as some modernist houses of the 1920s. Moreover, the dramatic effects produced by light on the building emphasized the subjective element of architecture. The Maison de Verre was conceived to include the family residence as well as Dr. Dalsace’s medical office. As a result of its program incorporating a variety of functions, and its construction within the courtyard of and eighteenth -century private residence, the Maison de Verre constituted a complex space. Nonetheless, a degree of openness was achieved by the use of moveable partitions made of metal or grass, as well as curtains to subdivide the interior. Among the most celebrated spaces within the Maison de Verre was its three-story living room and library with  a soaring wall comprising a metal grid filled with glass block.

The fame of the Maison de Verre has developed primarily as a consequence of its glass wall that faces into the courtyard. The wall of glass block served to filter natural light into the interior during the day; at night this function continued as  the wall was flooded with artificial light from the exterior. Indeed, it is this dramatic and glowing wall of glass that has made the Maison de Verre one  of the canonical houses of the twentieth century. It has continued to inspire architects concerned with generating new aesthetic qualities form modern materials up to the present day.

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