A strik­ing in­dus­trial glass gem in Paris in­spired by tra­di­tional Ja­panese screens

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Style Architecture -

This Mod­ernist 1930s abode is ar­chi­tect Sir Richard Rogers’ favourite build­ing in the world.

Sit­u­ated in the fash­ion­able Latin Quar­ter of the French cap­i­tal, Mai­son de Verre (which trans­lates as ‘Glass House’) was built for the prom­i­nent gy­nae­col­o­gist Jean Dal­sace and his wife An­nie. The cou­ple tried to buy the whole site – orig­i­nally an 18th-cen­tury apart­ment block – but an el­derly ten­ant on the top floor re­fused to sell, leav­ing them to con­struct their home un­der­neath by de­mol­ish­ing the bot­tom three floors with­out dis­turb­ing the orig­i­nal top level.

Ex­cited by the early Mod­ernist move­ment, An­nie wanted to cre­ate a prop­erty that was both rad­i­cal and spec­tac­u­lar. French ar­chi­tect and de­signer Pierre Chareau (1883–1950) and Dutch ar­chi­tect Bernard Bijvoet (1889–1979), who both shared the same de­sign ap­proach, took five years to build the house, com­plet­ing it in 1932. The in­no­va­tive build­ing dou­bled as Dal­sace’s clinic (ac­tress Brigitte Bar­dot was among his pa­tients), and is per­haps Chareau and Bijvoet’s most cel­e­brated work. The duo sought to cre­ate an ar­chi­tec­tural ver­sion of a tra­di­tional Ja­panese screen, al­low­ing in light yet pro­vid­ing pri­vacy. A strik­ing glass-block wall forms one side of the build­ing, and as a re­sult it is of­ten de­scribed as the ‘Glass Lan­tern’ – in ref­er­ence to the beau­ti­ful glow that it emits dur­ing the evenings.

In essence a steel-framed box, the house is spa­cious, light and open-plan. A se­ries of glass par­ti­tions and ro­tat­ing walls al­lowed for end­less room con­fig­u­ra­tions. For ex­am­ple, a wrap­around screen hid the stairs to the up­per floors from pa­tients dur­ing the day, but framed the stair­case beau­ti­fully at night. The glass gem quickly be­came a sa­lon for in­tel­lec­tu­als, with the likes of Ger­manJewish philoso­pher Wal­ter Ben­jamin, poet Louis Aragon and French writer Jean Cocteau among its reg­u­lar vis­i­tors.

Sadly the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of France forced the Dal­saces to flee – both were strong sup­port­ers of the Com­mu­nist party. In 2005, Amer­i­can ar­chi­tec­tural his­to­rian and col­lec­tor Robert Ru­bin bought Mai­son de Verre, restor­ing many of its ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures and sourc­ing orig­i­nal fur­ni­ture from the pe­riod. 31 Rue St-guil­laume, Paris, France

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