ARCHITECTURAL ICON MAISON DE VERRE BY PIERRE CHAREAU AND BERNARD BIJVOET
A striking industrial glass gem in Paris inspired by traditional Japanese screens
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