02/13/13 2:38pm
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.

The grand salon and front façade. Photo by Mark Lyon.

The grand salon and front façade. Photo by Mark Lyon.

Until 2006, the Maison de Verre belonged to the Dalsace family. The family occupied the upper floors of the Maison, while the ground floor housed the offices where Dr. Dalsace, a gynecologist, treated his patients. These days, the house belongs to Robert M. Rubin, a retired American financier. Rubin opens the house to a limited number of tours, but it can be very difficult to get a spot. Leave it to Michelle Young, the founder of Untapped Cities, to uncover the secret to visiting the Maison de Verre (she’s been twice):

-You must be a student or professional working in architecture or a related field.

-If you’re eligible, send a letter describing your interest and your qualifications to mdv31@orange.fr to reserve a tour.

-If you plan on visiting the Maison by yourself, reserve your tour 3 to 4 months in advance. If you’re visiting as part of a group, you’ll need reserve your tour 5-6 months in advance. Groups cannot exceed 10 people.

Tours last for an hour and a half and are scheduled for Thursdays at 2 and 3:30 p.m. only, and there are no tours during the month of August. Tickets cost 40 euros per person and 20 euros for students and professors of architecture (that’s roughly 54 and 27 U.S. dollars, respectively). But a trip to the Maison de Verre is well worth the six-month wait and the empty wallet; an hour and a half spent inside Chareau’s Glass House is an hour and a half spent inside his light, bright and delicate dream of the 20th century.

07/28/10 8:32am

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.