Maison De Verre/House of Glass: A Classic of Modern Architecture
During the twentieth century, European architecture was dominated by a radical, innovative and controversial movement called Modernism. Modernism was a response to the radical changes of the early 20th century: society had been transformed by industrialisation and rapid technological progress, and consequently designers began to feel that a more forward-looking style was needed, a unique style of the age.
A lesser-known Modernist house is the Maison de Verre, or House of Glass (1928-32) in Paris. This was designed by Pierre Chareau, an interior designer working in Paris. It was designed as a house and medical clinic for Dr. Jean Dalsace and his wife.
The client bought an 18th century townhouse in Paris and decided to completely rebuild it. However, the upper storey was owned by someone else, so the architect developed a radical solution. He supported the upper storey from below and cut the old house out of the street. Then he built a new house in the gap. It’s called the Maison de Verre because it has a translucent façade executed in glass brick. It flirtatiously reveals and conceals the interior. In the same way, the interior is divided by sliding screens of glass or perforated metal.
The interior is one of the most severe of all Modernst interiors because it makes use of industrial fixtures. This is the entrance hall. The glass façade floods the interior with cold, white light and the rigid geometrical grid looks very stark. These are industrial rubber tiles on the floor, which are very unusual in a domestic setting; they give it a very institutional atmosphere.
The living room features a staircase running up to the library. The staircase is very clinical and the living space is punctuated by industrial beams: the house is built on a structural frame, which is clearly expressed in the form of bare steel beams. Again, this is very sterile.
Modernism was a supremely rational style. The lighting within the house was regulated from a central console, which allowed each space to be illuminated individually. This can be seen as an attempt to achieve control over the whole environment.
The stairway is executed in blocks of Cuban mahogany. A passage leads to the doctor’s surgery. It has another wall of glass blocks, but there’s also a strip of transparent glass to permit a glimpse of the garden court. So again, the house is playing with vision, alternately concealing and revealing.
Jean Dalsace was a member of the French Communist Party and the house was regularly frequented by Marxist intellectuals like Walter Benjamin, as well as Surrealist poets and artists such as Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, Jean Cocteau and Joan Miró.
The house was built for a doctor and included a medical surgery on the ground floor. The house has been seen as a surgical metaphor. The diseased flesh of the street has been cut away with surgical precision and the wound is held open by the glass screen, which allows light to flood in and transfuse the space. In a metaphorical sense the light has a healing, curative affect. Specifically, Jean Dalsace was a gynecologist and feminist design historians have argued that the house is a metaphor for male science and rationality curing the female body.
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