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The exterior of the Maison de Verre. Photo by Mark Lyon.

The exterior of the Maison de Verre. Photo by Mark Lyon.

The Maison de Verre (Glass House) is one of the most precious architectural wonders in all of Paris, but it is also one of the most exclusive. Bathed in sunlight during the day, the Maison de Verre, designed by Pierre Chareau in 1931, gives off the same subtle shine as a piece of frosty sea glass. At night, illuminated by floodlights, it glows in the dark like a bioluminescent creature of the deep. When it was built, Le Corbusier used to walk by to see what was going on with this avant-garde architectural experiment. Those who are fortunate enough to take a tour of the interior will discover that the Maison is much more than an architectural relic; it is, as Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times put it, “an exquisite machine.” Both functional and artistic, the house is brought to life by rotating metal screens, sliding doors, rolling ladders and retractable staircases. It is meant to be lived in, as well as admired.

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Photo: Mark Lyon

“For architects it represents the road not taken: a lyrical machine whose theatricality is the antithesis of the dry functionalist aesthetic that reigned through much of the 20th century.”
- Nicolai Ousaroff (The New York Times, “The Best House in Paris,” 8/29/07)

Ousaroff’s quote is just the tip of an iceberg that is the famous Maison de Verre on Rue Saint-Guillaume. I have had the opportunity to visit the famous home twice through Columbia University (and my mild obsession with the house). Architectural historian Mary Vaughn Johnson gives a fascinating guided visit, bringing to life the original occupants of the home and their influence on the design. In the 1920s, the newly-wed Annie Dalsace began to envision a modern home on the property gifted to her on her nuptial, which she shared with her physician husband and eventually two children.  The current owner is retired financier and scholar, Robert M. Rubin, a doctoral candidate and teaching fellow in the history and theory of architecture at Columbia University. He has been restoring and providing a limited public an opportunity to see the house.

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