Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Maison de Verre, the other glass house

The Maison de Verre, in Paris. Courtesy The Jewish Museum.

There was a time when I wrote about many apartments. Apartments with rubber floors. Apartments with transparent bathtubs. Apartments with flip-up facades. Toward the end of interviewing their architects I would ask, almost as a throwaway, “is there a house that inspires you?” Nearly everyone answered, “the Maison de Verre.”

Maison de Verre—designed by architects Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet in Paris in 1932—is, as its name suggests, a glass house designed to solve a set of strangely familiar urban problems: a historic hôtel particulier; a tenant who won’t move out; a doctor who wants to work from home.

The result is a poetic machine, a two-story building set in a courtyard between two existing party walls, that creates a specific atmosphere out of its compromises through the deployment of translucent, textured curtain walls and movable parts—louvered windows, retractable stairs, pivoting screens. It makes those other glass houses, which only have to keep out the rain, look a little bit lazy.

Apparently, you have to see it to believe it, which makes the idea of a retrospective on Chareau (1883-1950) that’s not in Paris, home of his only remaining work of architecture, seem perverse at best.