The Maison de Verre (House of Glass) is a collaboration of the interior and furniture designer Pierre Chareau, the Dutch architect Bernard Bijvoet and The French metal craftsman Louis Dalbet. It was built between 1928 and 1932 and is a stunning example of modern architecture in the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Maison de Verre was commissioned by Dr. Jean Dalsace and his wife, Annie, who had bought the site, a 18th-century hôtel particulier next to the Latin Quarter in Paris. Much to their chagrin, the elderly tenant on the top floor of the building absolutely refused to sell, and the Dalsaces were obliged to demolish the bottom three floors of the building and construct the Maison de Verre underneath, without disturbing the original top floor. Viewed from the courtyard the house which cannot be seen from the street looks, the house looks like a glowing translucent box, its great glass-block facade embedded in the 18th-century fabric and capped by the old one-story apartment level above.
The Maison de Verre’s glass façade is made up of glass blocks supported by a steel frame structure. In the interior, spaces are separated by movable, sliding, folding or rotating screens in glass, sheet or perforated metal. Other mechanical components include an overhead trolley from the kitchen to dining room, a retracting stair from the private sitting room to Mme Dalsace's bedroom and complex bathroom cupboards and fittings. The whole steel structure with bare beams, the canalisation and conduits remain visible from the outside and contribute to the architecture thus transforming utilities into decorative elements. The glass block wall itself, is able to stand alone without the heavy frame. Ventilation through the glass block wall is provided by a series of movable traps. A weight and pulley system opens the window panels, allowing for natural ventilation. This unique system causes a minimum of visual impact on the glass facade of the structure.
The house which was used as a residency also comprised Dr. Dalsace’s gynecological practice which was located on the ground floor. A rotating screen hid the stairs leading to the private apartment in the upper floors from patients during the day, but framed the stairs at night. Pierre Chareau who was a distinguished furniture designer in Paris at the time gave enormous attention to detail, so much that the house itself was sometimes half-mockingly described as an elaborate piece of furniture.
In the mid-1930s, the Maison de Verre's double-height "salle de séjour" on the first floor was transformed into a salon regularly frequented by Marxist intellectuals like Walter Benjamin as well as by Surrealist poets and artists such as Louis Aragon, Paul Éluard, Jean Cocteau, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró and Max Jacob. When the Nazis arrived in France, The Dalsaces had to flee the country. In 2006, Robert Rubin, an American collector, bought the house from the Dalsace family and carefully restored it. Today it is still in use as a private house.