Recording the Absent Inside the Maison de Verre


  • Emma Cheatle University College London



Spatial analysis, Interior architecture, Spatial design


The Maison de Verre (Pierre Chareau) was completed in Paris in 1932 for Dr Jean Dalsace, his wife Annie and their two young children. The front façade, a skin of glass, conceals a family home and a gynaecology clinic. Information on the building’s 1930s inhabitation is missing leaving an archival gap.

Proposition: In 1933 there were two visitors. He attended the weekly Salon gathering. She secretly visited the clinic. They were lovers, the artist Marcel Duchamp and bookbinder Mary Reynolds. Duchamp’s artwork, the Large Glass (1915–23), suggests a glass premonition to their interactions.

The writing or drawing out of a story of possible inhabitation is, in the end, the potential of architecture. In this account, I reconstruct the Maison de Verre’s interior as a history through modes of text and drawing that combine spatial analysis with imagined occupation. New plan drawings with theoretical and fictional text combine images, routes, passages. In the first part, ‘The Glass Look’, the building seems to survey the salon visitor (Marcel), as instances caught in glass. ‘Regarding’ positions Annie Dalsace’s mediating presence, traced into her ambiguous circulations around the upper floors. In the third part, ‘Dust’, I speculate on Mary’s visit. Searching the building as if its housekeeper, I find little to suggest she was there, just the uncertainty of dust particles. In ‘Horizontal Passages’ I follow Mary’s imagined route through the ground floor clinic and trace her body through its remainders, dust particles and smears.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Emma Cheatle, University College London

Emma Cheatle is an architect and lecturer in architectural design, history and theory. She is interested in architecture as a relationship between materiality and space, cultural and social history and inhabitation. In order to ‘reconstruct’ the past lives of buildings in the present, she practices a theoretical creative writing which employs different forms of text, drawing, book arts and audio as critical methods. She recently completed her PhD at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, entitled ‘Part-architecture: The Maison de Verre through the Large Glass’. This both reevaluates these iconic works and proposes a new form of theoretical architecture comprising cross-related writings, drawings and audio pieces.




How to Cite

Cheatle, Emma. 2012. “Recording the Absent Inside the Maison De Verre”. Idea Journal 12 (1):98-111.



Design Research Paper