The Maison De Verre: A Model for Our Times?

maison de verre entry sign photo
Migrated Image

exterior photos by Kelly Rossiter

The same week that Alice Rawsthorn was writing about A Prefab House That Dazzles Still, the Pacific Palisades home of Charles and Ray Eames, I was in Paris, visiting another dazzling steel and glass house, the Maison de Verre, designed by Pierre Chareau for Dr. Jean Dalsace and his wife, Annie in 1931.

They are both seminal houses that have influenced generations of architects, but ultimately, the Maison De Verre has perhaps far more relevance to sustainable design and architecture today than does the Eames House.

maison de verre google map photo

1. It's Urban.

It doesn't get any more urban, smack in the middle of Paris. But with the Parisian model of courtyard housing, it is quiet and private. It is a wonderful development model, with nothing on the street but an anonymous door, but you enter into a lovely courtyard that provides access to all of the units in this multifamily building.


2. It's a Redevelopment, inserted in and under an existing building.

Rent control rules in France are really strict; the lady who lived on the top floor refused to move no matter what they offered, and under the law in France didn't have to. So they built a big steel frame to hold up her unit and inserted the Maison De Verre right under it. Those columns you see in the interior shots are holding up her unit.

maison de verre apartment above photo

You can see the apartment on top of the new building in this view of the rear.

maison de verre front photo

3. Like the Eames House, it is a demonstration of industrial materials and technologies.

Glass block was designed for floors, to let natural light into lower levels of buildings. The Maison De Verre was the first house to use it as a residential wall. They flood the house with natural light.

maison de verre interior photo

François Halard/From "La Maison de Verre" (Thames & Hudson)

See the black panels on the side of the columns holding up the upstairs apartment? They aren't decorative. Steel gets soft really quickly in a fire, and they had rules protecting that lady upstairs. The black slabs are slate, fastened to the steel columns. It acts as a heat sink, keeping the steel cool long enough for the people in the other units to get out.

maison de verre ground floor plan photo

Roussa Cassel
4. It's Live/Work

Dr. Dalsace was a gynecologist, and the entire ground floor was his office, complete with waiting rooms, examining room, lab and office.

maison de verre stair photo

He and his family lived above the shop, at the top of this grand stair.

maison de verre bathroom photo

Mark Lyon in the New York Times
5. It's a Healthy House.

Living between the discovery of germ theory by Koch and Pasteur, and the invention of antibiotics, Dr. Dalsace was crazy about cleanliness. Any permanently fastened material was washable; stair treads could be lifted out and cleaned; the few carpets were pinned rather than laid conventionally so that they could be removed and cleaned. Natural light and air was everywhere. Bathrooms were big, bright and you actually pass through them to get to the bedroom.

maison de verre piano photo

Twenty years before Charles and Ray Eames built their house, Pierre Chareau built one using industrial materials and technologies for residential use. He did it in an urban milieu, within the context of an existing building, as a true live-work space. While we celebrate the anniversary of the construction of the Eames House, don't let's forget that it was not without precedent, and that the precedent may have a lot more applicability to the way we need to live now.

eames house photo