Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The 1920s in Paris

After the first World War and the economic crisis of 1929, the French entered the twenties, Années Folles, a fascinating decade where aspirations to joy and debauchery were stemmed from the means to get rid of the pre-war values.

The war had left a big impact on the morale of the French, with many left disabled and others with lost family members. After the years of austerity, the French wanted "der des ders" (last of the last), beginning with a period of optimism and lightness.

Thanks to the influences from around the world, the effervescence was most important with revolutionised mentalities and ways of living, with the Parisians taking advantage of their new found freedom due to the progress in expansion. Another significant change was the feminine emancipation due to their independence during the war time, earning them responsibilities and new aspirations.


Surrealism, a literary movement, was introduced by André Breton, attracting numerous writers, and a change in the music scene towards jazz, which would be fashionable in luxurious parties of the Parisian elite. The aesthetic conception of "Art Déco" also emerged with its impact affecting not only paintings, sculptures, design and even fashion.


After the war, there was a new group of "nouveaux riches", with many of the middle class gaining access to leisures of the wealthy: Music-hall shows , operettas, theatre, circus and the cinema became popular attractions.  The TSF (Téléphonie Sans Fil) allowed the society to benefit from the radio at home and with the car industry full development, this democratised new means of transport, symbol of modernity and elegance. 


Women’s status changed after the War; where she was no longer just a housewife, but an independent woman. They wanted more freedom and to express their femininity, this was expressed through makeup, hairstyles, and perfume, as well as smoking in public. Women abandoned corsets and big hats and started dressing in accordance with their liking such as thin silhouettes, short dresses, high heels and bare legs. The athletic look, as well as golf trousers, was fashionable for men. The tie, coming from the United States, appeared in 1924.

Stephanie Wong

Monday, December 10, 2012

Climate in Paris

Kevin Park

The second architect behind it all

Bernard Bijvoet (1889-1979)

Before teaming up with Chareau, Bernard Bijvoet (1889-1979), Dutch architect, established himself in Paris along with his fellow student Johannes Duiker with their crowning achievement the Grand Hotel Gooiland in Hilversum, in 1936. The site was completed after Duiker's untimely death in 1935, and constructed in the French style including a Grand Theatre designed by Bijvoet at the rear of the building.

Grand Hotel Gooiland 
Unfortunately when war broke out, Bijvoet was left to fled with his family to the Dordogne region, and his home became a clandestine address for the French Resistance, the marquis. Returning to the Netherlands after liberation, Bijvoet settled in Haarlem to set up a partnership with Gerard Holt, a young architect, and together they managed the firm with projects such as cultural centres and auditoriums. Bijvoet also specialized himself in acoustics of theatre auditoriums, and was a member of the Netherlands Advisory Board on Theatre Construction, later receiving a Dutch royal decoration and title as Officer in the order of Orange Nassau.

City theatre, Keizer Karelplein, in the Netherlands by Bijvoet and Holt

His best known work with Chareau was the golf clubhouse for the Grand Hôtel de Beauvallon in 1929, which was situated on the Gulf of Saint-Tropez, and La Maison de Verre in 1931.

The golf clubhouse for the Grand Hotel de Beauvallon

Stephanie Wong

Chareau and his Furniture

Chareau's furniture can be distinguished from the work of his contemporaries because it was always executed from unusual combinations of materials, such as rich mahogany, unpolished metal, and lightly hammered surfaces. Parallel to the design and executions in material for La Maison de Verre, his furniture designs emphasized three main traits: honesty of materials, variable transparency of forms and juxtaposition of "industrial" materials and fixtures with a more traditional style of home decor. The sculptural designs were as unusual as the materials employed: pivoting or expanded fan-shaped configurations were among the hallmark of his designs. 

Fan-style table with three tabletops,
 one with a fixed top, the two others swivelling

Alabastar table lamp

His chair designs of the early 1920s show a preference for undecorated ample rounded forms, executed in highly polished woods - mahogany, walnut, oak, ash or maple - with rich upholstery.

Desk chair designed for the 1925 Expo, 
made in mahogany or mahogany tinted 
rosewood and reupholstered with leather
Walnut chair and macassar ebony inlay, 
leather upholstered seat

With the later of his works in metal frames for public commissions such as bars, hotels and clubs. 

Black metal frame chair with
 leather upholstered seat

Stool with base on block feet legs 
in macassar ebony, rosewood, 
mahogany, sycamore or walnut

His designs for chairs, stools, tables and cupboards in wood and metal received much praise from contemporary publications for their functional approach and combination of elegance and technical ingenuity. 

Interesting fact: The majority of vintage Pierre Chareau furniture items sell for very high prices at auctions, however, Chareau's walnut and wrought iron "L" desks are considered to be the most rare and valuable among collectors.

Wrought iron L desk


Renovations and Restorations

Robert Rubin in his New York apartment
La Maison de Verre was eventually sold to Robert Rubin, an American entrepreneur, in 2006. It was after negotiations which began in 2004 that him and his wife, Stéphane, bought the house for an undisclosed amount. “I think they finally sold it to me because of what I had done with the Maison Tropicale,” he told New York Times architecture critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff, in 2007, “It was a very heavy responsibility to have.” Although he loved the house, he added, “I didn’t want to fetishize it.” He kept true to his words and after buying the house, embarked on a painstaking renovation of its intricate— and for its time, ingenious — mechanical systems. He enlisted a corps of architectural historians and graduate students to decipher its secrets.
He began by slowly restoring the house’s mechanical systems, first the electrical wiring, and then the original heating and plumbing systems. The outdoor spotlights, most of which had been lowered or taken down decades ago, were restored to their original position on a steel frame in the courtyard. He also bought a fancy new stove.
But he left many of the most visible scars untouched: the worn textiles and dulled metal surfaces as well as some of the structural alterations made over the years. He decided not to polish the perforated panels in the salon. The old rubber flooring, whose pattern of small disks looks cracked and worn down in some places, is still there.

Below is an account of Nicolai Ouroussoff's, architecture critic, stay at La Maison de Verre with his girlfriend:

"It wasn’t until we arose the next morning, however, that we fully understood Chareau’s choreography. The bathroom floor is raised in certain areas so that as we crossed it, we could catch occasional glimpses of each other before suddenly dropping back out of view.
A pair of perforated metal panels that divide the shower and bath can swing open, enabling us to chat with each other as we bathed. When they were closed, you could see the outline of a human silhouette moving behind the screen. It was the same dance we had performed around the central salon, now brought to its most intimate scale. The experience drove home how liberating the house must have felt during those first years, when it still hummed with life, with Mr. and Mrs. Dalsace circling into and out of each other’s orbit. The house was a perfect balance between the need for companionship and solitude, a utopia of the senses." 
- Nicolai Ouroussoff, architecture critic for the New York times
Illustration of perforated metal panels in the washroom/ dressing room   

Stephanie Wong

Floor plans labeled

Second Floor Plan

First Floor Plan

Ground Floor Plan

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Annie Dalsace

Annie Dalsace, the lady of the house, was a driving force behind La Maison de Verre. As an avant-garde art collector, socialite, and close friend of Pierre Chareau, she commissioned a house that would become an embodiment of the modern movement. The house was very much a collaborative project, as Chareau worked alongside other, such as Jean Lurcat, who designed the upholstery tapestries and whose wife embroidered them. Annie was a student of Chareau's wife, who became and influential mentor to her. Twenty years later the construction of the house began. The Dalsace's were well connected with contemporary artists and intellects, and their house became a salon and cultural hub. Many gatherings were held in the grand drawing room of La Maison de Verre. Some artists that Annie was close with did art pieces of her, including Jacques Lipchitz who sculpted a bust in her likeness, and Jean Lurcat who painted her portrait. Annie collected art, and purchased some of Picasso's work to decorate the house.

The Dalsaces were politically active, and in the 1950's the house was the setting for the Association of Doctors Against War and Facism. Secret peace talks between the French and the Vietnamese were also held in the house, as well as meetings in support of peace in Algeria.

Portrait of Annie Dalsace, by Jean Lurcat

Upholstery by Jean Lurcat

Bust of Annie Dalsace, by Jacques Lipchitz

Carla Gruber

Hey dawg check dis movie

Principles of the Design

Illustration of living room -- Stephanie Wong
Consistent design ideals and materials were used throughout the entire house. There is no difference in use of materials between 'piano nobile' and servant's quarters. The grey and black house seems to be monochromatic at first glance, but it also contains colours. The orange columns, the tapestry-covered furniture, the warm mahogany wood, and the books on the bookshelf wall all give off signs of life, sparks of joy. Colours burst forth.

From the outside the house may look small, but when one gets to the foot of the main staircase, the real dimensions of the space become apparent. One is only aware of this inside. The glass wall of the great room, forming the outer facade, absorbs and refracts the light. Diffused by the massive glass wall, light invades the entire room, illuminating the space. Its presence is absolute - monumental white light, almost dizzying, with no escape. Sitting on the couch covered with tapestry designed by Jean Lurcat, it prevents a direct gaze. The great room itself is a beating heart. It is like a modern cathedral, where eleven orange and black columns studded bolts impose a rhythm and form the framework of the house. Their different sizes, their colours, with black slabs interrupting the orange columns at set intervals, the striking sizes of the bolts, are amazing. They look different at different angles and when one looks at them against the white screen they become sillouhettes against the light and loose their relief. Wherever one looks in this house something is happening. The more one looks, the more one discovers the volumes, the different materials, details and paradoxes.

Site Map and Analysis of the House

Site map of the house

The Maison de Verre is located in the St-Thomas D'Aquin quartier of the 7th arrondissement, also called 'du Palais-Bourbon'. The arrondissements are 20 administrative districts  set in place during Napoleon's reign. Each arrondissement is known for a certain aspect it provides to the city. For example, the 7th arrondissement was the area where French nobility used to live in the 17th century and is usually considered the most aristocratic of all the districts. This arrondissement was not only home to many rich and aristocratic families, it also used to be known as the political heart of the city. It was home to the Ultra Party of France, a political faction that strongly supported royalism. Eventually, this district lost most of its political influence, but is still known to be fashionable and aristocratic. 

Right next to La Maison de Verre is the St-Germain de Pres quartier of the 6th arrondissement, also known as 'du Luxembourg'. This district was home to the Parisian intelligentsia, an area filled with beautiful architecture and prestigious history. It is well known for the advent intellectualism and literature that it hosted. It was also home to many of the post-war movements that were incredibly influential in history such as surrealism, modern feminism, and existentialism.

Both of these districts and quartiers helped shape La Maison de Verre's history and involvement with politics and art. The clandestine political meetings that often occurred there were possible due to its location. The influence of art and emerging artistic movements can be seen in the design of the house and the architects, again, possible due to its location.

Kevin Park

Chronology and Cultural History

In 1934, a demonstration by the far-right in Place de la Concorde caused riots. The Popular Front, a left-wing party, is formed after a demonstration on July 14, 1935, on Bastille Day. The Popular Front was formed to create an alliance of centrist and leftist political parties in France that were opposed to the onset of fascism. The Popular Front wins the general election in May of 1936. Their victory was marked by spontaneous street celebrations and demonstrations. 

Both before and after the war, the Maison de Verre was an important cultural and political meeting place. La Maison de Verre was a place where artists, poets, and travelers got together for dinners and receptions. The house's guests included Louis Jouvet, Max Ernst, Pierre Levy, and Jeanne Bucher. Annie Dalsace's love for art was life-long; she bought paintings by Picasso and Braque, Lipchitz sculpted a bust of Annie, Jean Lurcat painted her portrait, and the house e hoed with concerts of chamber music. 

In 1939, World War II begins. During the occupation of France by Germany, the house was closed and emptied of all its furniture which was hidden and kept safe. The Germans wanted to requisition the Maison de Verre but they soon realized that they could neither heat nor light it. After the Liberation in 1944, the Dalsaces returned to Paris and lived in the maids’ rooms above the Maison de Verre while their house was being restored after four years of neglect. The Dalsaces were politically active, and in the 1950s the house was the setting for the foundation of the Association of Doctors Against War and Fascism. It also housed secret peace talks between the French and the Vietnamese, as well as meetings in support of peace in Algeria. The house was open to everyone. La Maison de Verre was a meeting place where avant-garde ideas, artistic concepts and the most beautiful utopian ideals were being expressed; it was open for everyone and everything, for every form of expression. It was a place of friendship.

Timeline (updated version)

Equipement and layers

Saturday, December 8, 2012



Set back from the street and overlooking a generous courtyard, La Maison de Verre is removed and sheltered from the commotion of city life. Approaching the house, one must pass through the courtyard and approach a solemn but impressive facade. Made of translucent blocks of glass, the face of the building gives little indication of the spaces that lay beyond. The courtyard and iron gate over the door are the first layers one must pass upon entering the dwelling.
The spaces in La Maison de Verre are defined by layers. The skeleton of the house is made up of nothing more than two and a half floors and eleven pillars. The divisions of space inside the house are dictated not by load baring walls, but by partitions -- many of which are moveable. The furniture defines the space. Stripped of furnishings, the large two storey height living room possesses the aesthetic of a factory or artist's studio over the social space of a home. However, once the grand piano, double height bookshelves, and custom furniture are added to the room, it becomes the modern, dramatic space that Chareau designed it to be. The Dalsace's were social and hospiatable, and the living room became an important salon where many intellectual gatherings were held.

At the back of the living room is the doctor's second office, which has a sliding wall that can be fully opened, creating one large space with a view from the front of the house through to the back, or closed to conceal the office and make for a quite space.

Under the staircase leading from the first to the second floor is a cylindrical broom cupboard. Made of iron and possessing a strong structural character, the cupboard hides in plain sight. located beneath the triangular silhouette of the staircase, the two together combine to form a seemingly cubist composition. Chareau blurs the boundary between architecture and decoration as he uses furniture as much if not more than structural elements to define the space.

Above the living room is the most intimate space of the house where the families bedrooms are located. As the most private space in the house, the rooms are located at the back of the building and overlook the garden, each with access to the large terrace. The rooms are divided by metal partitions that serve to both separate the spaces as well as provide storage. The cabinets have double access from inside the rooms as well as from the hallway, allowing for the servant to stock the shelves without disturbing the family in their rooms. Even the bathrooms do not have solid walls. They are defined by metal cabinets with the character of a ship locker. They divide the space while again serving as storage.

Carla Gruber

Diversity of spaces

The facade gives an image of simplicity, although the bell push post at the entrance hints toward the complexity of the programme that lays beyond:

  • doctor's practice 
  • waiting room 
  • space for secretary 
  • office 
  • consulting rooms in which patients could be examined by the doctor 
  • place for social life where the couple could welcome the guests 
  • service areas 
  • kitchen 
  • laundry 
  • rooms for master, wife and children to spend evenings together 
  • bedrooms 

Main Staircase

The central feature of the ground floor is the ground stairway which leads to the first floor. A corridor leads to the main staircase. It is sheltered by a screen that slides along a curved section while the other folds back against the railing. On days when there were guests both sides were opened. Light filters through a series of screens made of different materials.

Illustration of main staircase
Section of the main staircase

The treads of the staircase were covered with rubber, like a monumental ladder. Despite its functional appearance, it also served a purpose as a ceremonial stairway. The Dalsace couple would welcome guests arriving on the ground floor at the top of the staircase. It is also an unusual position for a staircase, located in the middle of the house. The visitor goes upwards facing the glass wall and gradually discovering the true dimensions of the upper level. The surprise of the first floor is the immense open space that is the library and the glass wall façade facing the courtyard that illuminates said space. Below the stairway, there is an area covered in black tiles. As one ascends the staircase and looks down, it appears as though a void is opening up below.

Screen that covers the stairs.
Side view of stairs.
Note black tiling underneath.
Top view of stairs.

Chronology and timeline information

The design was a collaboration between Pierre Chareau (a furniture and interiors designer), Bernard Bijvoet (a Dutch architect working in Paris since 1927) and Louis Dalbet (craftsman metalworker). For four years, Chareau and his collaborators worked on the house. Dalbet moved to the site. 

In 1928, the French firm of Saint Gobain began to market, with no manufacturer’s guarantee, square, 20x20x4 pieces with fluted edges that offered an excellent external finish. However, the company refused to guarantee that its blocks would be self-bearing, so in order to prevent possible breakages of those at the base, Chareau found himself obliged to create a hidden steel grid to group them into panels of 4x6 blocks. These panels became the basic element of the design.
In 1930, Chareau covered this steel framework with a mortar to achieve an apparently seamless surface, without a visible skeleton, as though it were an unlimited transparent plane.
However, in the 1960s this continuous covering was removed from the main façade and replaced by metal bars that emphasized the interior sub-structure by carrying it through to the exterior. 
1919 - The first affordable public housing built in Paris

1920- First commercial radio broadcast

1923 - Art and Technology A new Unity exhibition , Bauhaus, Weimar Adolf Behne writes der Moderne Zwecbau, published in 1926

1924 - Paris hosts the Olympic games

1925 - Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Paris

1925 - Art Deco Exposition in Paris

1928 - Building in France, Sigfried Giedon

1928 - The Congrès internationaux d'architecture moderne – CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture) was founded a group of 28 European architects; the organization focused on spreading the principles of Modern Movement through landscape, industrial design, urbanism and many other domains. The organization was organized by Le Corbusier, Sigfried Giedon, and also included Pierre Jeanneret, El Lissitzky, Josef Frank, Pierre Chareau and many more. CIAM was formin aspects of Modern Movement as well as trying to imply them in political and economical sense.

1928-1932 - Maison de Verre construction

1931- Le Corbusier, Villa Savoye, Poissy France

1934 - February 6 - A demonstration by the far right in Place de la Concorde

1935 - The Popular Front wins the general election in May. Their victory is marked by spontaneous street celebrations and demonstrations, as well as a number of work shortages

1936 - Nikolaus Pevsner, Pioneers of the Modern Movement 

1939 - World War II begins

During the occupation the house was closed and emptied of all its furniture which was hidden and kept safe. The Germans wanted to requisition the Maison de Verre but they soon realized that they could neither heat nor light it.

1940 - June 3 An air raid kills 254 people

              June 14 The Germans occupy Paris

              November 11 Students demonstrate on Place de l’Etoile

              December 26 The city coucil is suspended

1941- foreign Jews living in Paris are rounded up and deported

1942 - June 16-17 French Jews living in Paris are rounded up and deported

1944 - August 25 - The liberation of Paris

After the Liberation in 1944 the Dalsaces returned to Paris and lived in the maids’ rooms above the Maison de Verre while their house was being restored after four years of neglect.

1952 - May 18 - The Algerian Population of Paris demonstrate in favor of Algerian independence

1954 - Vietnam divided after French defeat Algerian war of independence begins

The Dalsaces were politically active, and in the 1950s the house was the setting for the foundation of the Association of Doctors Against War and Fascism. It also housed secret peace talks between the French and the Vietnamese, as well as meetings in support of peace in Algeria.

1961 - September 20 After riots break out following a demonstration in favor of Algerian independence, a curfew is imposed on Algerians 

1962 - Algeria becomes independent

The house stayed in the Dalsace family for more than 70 years. 

1980’s - Dr. Dalsace’s daughter - Aline Vellay and her husband considered selling the house to French government. Though it might be turned into a national landmark, as le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye, but the government didn’t take them up on it. 

Friday, December 7, 2012


La Maison de Verre was both a home and office. The fact that Dr. Dalsace frequently had patients visiting the house for appointments was influential to the design of the home. It had to be adaptable to suit the needs of family life as well as professional practice. Chareau designed many aspects of the home to be transformable – especially passage ways. The ground floor of the home is where Dr. Dalsace worked and met with patients. In order to divide the living space from the doctor’s office, Chareau designed a moving partition to screen the main stairway, directing patients away from the private sphere of the home and towards the office. However, the partition was not opaque and allowed for glimpses of the space that lay beyond.

The house itself is set back from the street level, requiring visitors to pass through a courtyard before approaching the threshold. The courtyard serves as a preliminary threshold itself, giving a sense of separation and detachment from the bustle of the street. The doctor was a gynaecologist, and it seems that the removed setting of the house and office is attributed to the confidentiality that one would value in visiting the doctor. 

Careful consideration is also given to the desired pathways of Anne Dalsace, the doctor’s wife and Chareau’s friend. On the second floor, she is given a foldable stair-lader that allows her to travel discretely from her bedroom to a personal den. The room is a private sanctuary that overlooks the garden.

Carla Gruber