It has been 80 years since Pierre Chareau designed the Maison de Verre, House of Glass, in central Paris, notable for its steel structure and façade of glass blocks. Set in an enclosed courtyard and wedged between two buildings, it became renowned for its light steel and glass structure and free-flowing spaces. It was a touchstone for the earliest wave of the international style and many a wide-eyed architectural student made the pilgrimage to kneel at its door.
The Maison Escalier makes more than a passing reference to its modernist forebear: set between two buildings in the heart of the 6th arrondissement of Paris, this contemporary house has an entirely glazed south façade concealed behind a metal filigreed screen. During the day the dark grey screen, cut in a crazy-paving pattern, closes out the world.
When lit at night, more is revealed but not much. The screen takes on the form of a web, suggesting fine lacework or perhaps an elegant stocking: demure, alluring, provocative and denying at the same time. Forms can be glimpsed but nothing is given away. The pattern seen en masse is almost Islamic and yet, equally, Miss Havisham might live here. This ease of ambiguity, the magical translucence, the denial of structure and the mystique of the interior are all shared with the Maison de Verre.
One of the more striking aspects of the house is not apparent from the outside. The house has a central core that encloses the wet rooms, around which wind spaces like a giant stair. The house is free of partitions and is open from the basement to the roof terrace. The steel floors are cantilevred off the central core with three concrete boxes added in to create built-in furniture.
The Maison Escalier owes much to its antecedent, not least its ability to make the most of a cramped site between two larger buildings. That it does so with such a diffuse lightness suggests it might become a new precedent for a new architecture in a new century.