What matters most to me in any project is the potential for immersing myself in the architectural process.
I’m interested in the emotional quality of a space,” explains the renowned architect John Pawson. That much is apparent in his palatial designs, each offering a sense of tranquility by distilling the space into its most essential properties. “When someone walks into a house or a gallery or a monastery I have designed, it is the atmosphere I want them to experience,” he adds, “before they start registering the details of the architecture.”
That attitude has made Pawson one of the most celebrated architects of his time, most often revered for his clean æsthetic. That perspective, however, has always extended beyond his work. “I draw no lines between architecture and life and, in this sense, there are no aspects of my life that lie outside of architecture,” he says. Pawson’s propensity towards minimalism was formed long before he became an architect and remains ingrained in his outlook. “My instinct to pare back is a characterizing thread that dates back to a school trip to the seaside, when I lost a cherished set of Parker pens and resolved never again to allow myself to become so attached to a possession,” he recalls. “There are very few things I could not happily do without—with the exception of family and friends.”
In his twenties, Pawson moved to Tokyo, drawn to the Zen Buddhism that still reflects in his approach. He’s known as an expert of minimalism, one who explores the relationship between light and space and balances the two to create a refined ambiance. Another constant throughout his life has been his affinity towards white and its endless possibilities as a blank canvas for natural
colors to shine through. His designs allow for sunlight to wash over interiors, lending warmth and color to otherwise unperturbed spaces.
Pawson’s mastery over the style brought him to major projects, some as self-evident as art galleries and boutiques for Calvin Klein and others as distinctive as ballet sets at the Paris Opera Ballet, a sinuous bridge over a lake at England’s Royal Botanic Gardens, and the Abbey of Our Lady of Nový Dvur in Bohemia. Though he’s more in-demand than ever before, his newest major project reunites him with long-time collaborator Ian Schrager for the West Hollywood EDITION. “You always instinctively know when you meet a person and talk whether there is the potential for embarking on the long client-architect dialogue together,” he offers.
At this stage in his career, Pawson seems less like a designer and more like an artist; his drive is in creation and his goal to imbue each project with personal expression. “What matters most to me in any project is the potential for immersing myself in the architectural process,” he says. “The scope for pushing into fresh territory tends to come from within—from one’s own thinking rather than from a new typology.” In that, he’s succeeding, when he himself is reveling in the very feeling his spaces are designed to elicit: serenity. “I have always found inspiration in travel, but equally powerfully at home,” he explains. “Last year I finished work on a house in the country for my family and I find that time spent there, reflecting quietly, provides all the mental stimulation I need.”