Focus On: John Pawson

Born: Halifax, Yorkshire in 1949
Studied at: Architecture Association
Focus of work: Approaching problems in space, proportion, light and materials
Inspirations: Japanese and monastic architecture
Works include: Calvin Klein Flagship Store, New York // Our Lady of Novy Dvur, Bohemia // Design Museum, London // Life House, Llanbister, Mid Wales

A quote from Pawson states that “it is all architecture”, with his work predominantly dealing with the typical ideal that is architecture but also delves into further details which brings a space to life, such as furniture design or to the even smaller elements like door handles. His broad spectrum of work is something I admire as a designer, the detail and precision to his craft is greatly admirable. Therefore, he is the perfect decision for my first ‘Focus On …’ post, especially after some hefty googling of the architectural designer for my graduate project.

Renowned for his minimalist aesthetic, a style whilst having been around for years and years has only fairly recently entered the mainstream. This influence, according to interviews with Pawson, originates from his childhood growing up in Yorkshire with its’ plain stone and his time working in Japan, under the designer Shiro Kuramata.

Kuramata was known for his use of industrial materials to create architectural interiors and furniture, and his work today is still greatly valued with its poetical value. His pieces include ‘How High the Moon Armchair’ and ‘Miss Blanche Chair’.

Whilst working with the designer obviously hugely influenced Pawson’s aesthetic, being surrounded by Japanese architecture, typified by use of wooden structures and the upmost respect to nature. 

Read ‘In Praise of Shadows’ by Jun’ichurō Tanizaki. A beautiful essay about Japanese aesthetics, a must for any architecture student and something I always recommend to my friends.

Minimalism is predominantly about spare spaces and clean lines, with a sublime use of materials (which ultimately makes the style a pricey one). The craftsmanship that comes with making the drawings a reality is an admirable one, and should be appreciated by all.

02 - JohnPawson - DesignMuseum.pngDesign Museum, London

A couple of weeks ago, I finally went to see the Design Museum in London, after hours of googling the building during my graduate project. This is Pawson’s first major design intended for public use, where the first thing to great you as you enter space is the grand oak-lined atrium with the iconic concrete hyperbolic paraboloid roof. A theatrical atmosphere matches the design of the space, with the public roaming around the building with the simple guide of the oak stairs and illuminated hand rails. The main (free) exhibition, Designer Maker User, hones down into a more domestic scale, displaying objects such as a 1:1 model of the new London tube train and a chair, by one of my other archi-heroes, Lina Bo Bardi. Unfortunately, I never saw the exhibition that was on at the time, as I had a lack of funds. However, the shop was a nice wander round.

One of Pawson’s designs that I am dying to see is the Life House/Tyˆ Bywyd, again sadly I do not have the dollar to stay. I love the contrasting dark exterior brick with the internal lighter brick and how it’s embedded in the Welsh landscape. The building isn’t designed to stand out and make a statement, instead it tries to be hidden within its’ surroundings. Pawson based the design around Japanese and monastic architecture, hence why there are two corridors one light and one dark – capturing two very different experiences. Furthermore, these architecture styles inspire the layout of the space, where the objective to help with the rituals of private solitude and community.

Pawson is a must for any architecture student to acknowledge, with his ability to create very beautiful lines with a thoughtful eye towards materials – a key figure in minimalist design. Furthermore, whilst he may not technically be an architect, he proves an inspiration to those who creates visually stunning designs, he’s an architectural designer who should give courage and motivation to those who want to go against the trend, as he emerged during the 1980’s with postmodernism and Memphis taking height.

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