SAH News

SAH in Paris—Magnificent

by Pauline Saliga | Aug 15, 2014

On July 11 and 12, SAH collaborated with former SAH Board member Robert Rubin to host a two-day seminar on his iconic Paris house, the Maison de Verre. Designed as a fundraiser to enable SAH to raise $50,000 to help match an NEH grant to develop SAH Archipedia, the event attracted additional support that put SAH’s total fundraising commitment to NEH over its goal. The capstone gift was made by Brent Harris, a former SAH Board member and the owner of an iconic Palm Springs house, the Kaufmann Desert House (Richard Neutra, 1946–1947). We at SAH extend our sincere gratitude to Robert Rubin, the 25 participants in the Maison de Verre seminar, and Brent Harris for helping SAH reach and exceed its fundraising goal. Thank you to all.

The two-day Paris event, envisioned by Rubin and Mary Vaughan Johnson, curator of the Maison de Verre, presented the house in the context of two other modernist icons on the outskirts of Paris—Maison Louis Carré (Alvar Aalto, 1959) and Villa Savoye (Le Corbusier, 1931). After gathering at the front doorstep of the Maison de Verre on the morning of July 11, the SAH group traveled by motor coach to the suburb of Bazoches-sur-Guyonne, 40 km southwest of Paris, to tour the Maison Carré, Aalto’s only building in France. Designed for the art dealer and collector Louis Carré and his wife, Olga, the house is a complete work of art that melds furniture, decorative arts, architecture, and landscape into a unified whole. After an in-depth tour by Director Asdis Olafsdottir, we had a picnic lunch at the house, enabling us to experience how the Carrés themselves lived and worked there. After lunch, we drove through the beautiful French countryside to the suburb of Poissy to tour Villa Savoye, the ultimate demonstration of Corbusier’s theories about modernist residential architecture. As we walked through every level of the house, Mary Vaughan Johnson provided insights into past threats of demolition and the French government’s efforts to save one of Corbusier’s most important structures. On our return to Paris, thanks to Vaughan Johnson, we were treated with access to one very special additional site—the private apartment of Charlotte Perriand, the modernist designer best known for her furniture and interiors for Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret. Located a few blocks from the Maison de Verre, the apartment currently is serving as a private archive of Perriand’s work.

After a short walk, we reconvened at the Maison de Verre ( Pierre Chareau and Bernard Bijvoet, 1932) for a cocktail reception and buffet dinner in the large salon that is the heart of the house. As Rubin anticipated, we saw the house transformed as daylight gave way to twilight and the character of the salon’s glass block walls completely changed from diffused natural light to artificial light, projected from the outside in. As if that experience wasn’t magical enough, we returned to the house the next morning for a talk by Rubin about his broader interest in the conservation of modernist buildings and the specific challenges of restoring the Maison de Verre. Rubin then gave in-depth tours of every room in the house—from public rooms, including the former doctor’s office and family’s salon, to bedrooms and bathrooms—demonstrating the custom-designed moveable screens, wardrobes, closets, and staircases that separated the three functions of the house: doctor’s office, family residence, and servant’s support areas. Following the exhaustive and fascinating tour, we retired to the landscaped garden in the rear of the house for a sun-dappled buffet lunch. Like the house, the garden provides discreet areas for its different functions, and it is a lush oasis in the dense, urban neighborhood that houses the Maison de Verre.

To say "thank you" to Robert Rubin for envisioning this once-in-a-lifetime event, hardly begins to express our gratitude. Those of us who participated are deeply grateful and have a new, more personal understanding of that modern icon and its companions in the French countryside. 

Pauline Saliga
Executive Director, SAH

View image gallery on Flickr


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Copyright - (c) 2012