John Pawson (born 1949, Halifax, England) is a British architectural designer whose work is known for its minimalist aesthetic. Pawson’s work focuses on ways of approaching fundamental problems of space, proportion, light and materials.
Whilst private houses have remained at the core of the work, projects have spanned a wide range of scales and building typologies, from the Sackler Crossing across the lake at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, a flagship store for Calvin Klein and major commissions for Ian Schrager, to ballet sets, yacht interiors and a new Cistercian monastery in Bohemia. The practice is currently involved in the creation of a new permanent home for the Design Museum in London.
Minimum is an extended visual essay exploring the idea of simplicity in architecture, art and design across a variety of historical and cultural contexts.
The architectural elements are organised into a series of spatial themes refering mass, light, structure, ritual, landscape, order, containment, repetition, volume, essence and expression.
Located on a south-facing slope 10km from the centre of Palma, this family home addresses the challenge of making architecture that celebrates the contours of the landscape, while affording optimal and — critically, in a climate such as this — controllable light penetration. The house presents a single storey to the street, with a second floor to the seaward side.
Walls are of the thickness required for optimal cooling in summer and insulation in winter, with natural cooling and ventilation supported by a sculptural, funnel-like courtyard within the floor plan. Projecting out into the garden, the pool underscores the dramatic attenuation of the site.
Perspectives, Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
Perspectives is essentially a tool for viewing, incorporating the largest concave meniscus crystal lens ever commissioned from Swarovski’s optical division. This lens sits on the flat surface of a metal hemisphere so highly polished it resembles a pool of mercury. The effect of bringing these two elements together is to provide sharply honed perspectives of isolated elements of a spatial environment. The piece is designed to be as simple and visually refined as possible, but the focus of the project falls not on the physicality of the object itself, so much as how this object enables people to see in a different way.
The inaugural project of the newly createdSwarovski Foundation, Perspectives was installed below the cupola of Andrea Palladio’s Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, as part of the 55th International Art Exhibition.
Moritzkirche, Augsburg, Germany, 2008 – 2013
The church of St Moritz has been through many changes since its foundation nearly a thousand years ago. Devastating fires, changes in liturgical practice, aesthetic evolution and wartime bombing have each left their mark on the fabric of the building. The purpose of this latest intervention has been to retune the existing architecture, from aesthetic, functional and liturgical perspectives, with considerations of sacred atmosphere always at the heart of the project. The work has involved the meticulous paring away of selected elements of the church’s complex fabric and the relocation of certain artefacts, to achieve a clearer visual field. Drawing on existing forms and elements of vocabulary, an architectural language has evolved that is recognisable in subtle ways as something new, yet has no jarring foreign elements.
Archabbey of Pannonhalma Hungary 2006 -2008
Combining Medieval, Baroque, nineteenth century and later structures, the Benedictine Archabbey of Pannohalma is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The objective of this major renovation of its thirteenth-century basilica was the retuning of its interior to reflect contemporary patterns of liturgical use, whilst also recovering something of the spirit and spatial quality of the original architecture, lost amongst the accretions of later interventions. The new rose window becomes the logical point of transcendence in a theological narrative sign-posted in onyx, beginning with the font at the church’s west end, leading through the nave to the altar and lectern and finally upwards to the celestial circle of light.
Casa delle Bottere Treviso, Italy, 2006 - 2014
The dart-like volume of this family home in the Veneto region of northern Italy is set within a deep excavation, creating a single storey above ground and a basement level, with a sunken courtyard to the west.
The central roof plane rises from the east elevation, its lines converging at the apex of a pitched gable on the western façade. Following Palladian precedents, the design incorporates a pair of cross-views, orientated on the cardinal axes. A goal of the project was to create a building with virtually zero energy requirements and Casa delle Bottere is one of only seventy houses in Italy to have been awarded gold star certification for sustainability.
Schrager Apartment New York - 2006 - 2009
Spanning the façade’s twenty-one bays, one long edge of the apartment’s floor plan is left clear, preserving an uninterrupted 40-metre vista, with views out to the city at either end. A series of white walls mark out areas for family living, kitchen and library, maximising the sense of an open, loft-like layout, whilst creating a sequence of gathering spaces in which the activities of everyday domestic life can naturally take place. This approach allows the focus to fall on the combinations of materials and the detailing of the junctions, the pairing of fired black granite and brushed, stained Japanese cedar in the kitchen, for example, playing with ideas of similarity and contrast in terms of texture and tone.
Tetsuka House, Tokio, Japan, 2003 - 2005
This design for a compact site in a suburb of Tokyo, the office’s first realised domestic project in Japan, takes the form of a rectangular box containing living quarters, a room dedicated to the rituals of the traditional tea ceremony and a double-height courtyard open to the sky. The concrete envelope is tinted to reflect the internal division between floors and animated by openings. These apertures frame a series of meticulously edited vistas out of the building that become part of the landscape of the interior. The exaggerated length of the wall leading to the entrance brings quiet theatre to the experience of arrival.
Abbey of Our Lady of Nový Dvůr Bohemia, Czech Republic - 1999 - 2004
The Abbey of Our Lady of Nový Dvůr occupies an estate of 100 hectares of farmland and forest, in a remote part of Bohemia. At the time of acquisition, the site included a dilapidated baroque manor house and agricultural buildings, arranged around a courtyard. This configuration set the footprint of the main cloister complex, with the historic manor house restored to form the west wing and the remaining derelict structures replaced by new architecture, dominant amongst which is the abbey church. The design draws on St Bernard of Clairvaux’s twelfth-century blueprint for Cistercian architecture, with its emphasis on light, simplicity of proportion and clarity of space. The masterplan includes a number of satellite structures — a freestanding chapel, agricultural buildings, guesthouse, workshops and facilities for visitors — whose construction has been ongoing since the consecration of the cloister in 2004.
Pawson House, London - 1992 - 1994
With the exception of a new recessed front door, the façade of this Victorian house remains unaltered. Inside all is transformed. On the raised ground floor the original two reception rooms are converted into a single space, a stone bench set along the long wall acting as seating, hearth and light cove. Douglas fir floorboards are laid uncut from the front of the house to the back, extending onto the garden balcony and beyond, with table and benches constructed using identical timber. In another defining gesture, the worktops in the kitchen are formed from 4.5-metre lengths of marble, with sinks cut into the thickness of the stone.