To say that John Pawson’s design style is minimalistic would be an understatement. To say that he lives and truly understands all the elements of a minimalistic approach would be more apt.
Rather than being minimalistic for the sake of it, Pawson’s design style consists of using a clean approach to spaces – one that allows the objects and people within it to shine.
Born in Yorkshire in 1949, John Pawson spent some of his early years working in his family’s textile business. It was however Pawson’s travel through Japan that sparked his interest in design and architecture. This led him to enroll at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London to learn design, and eventually start his own practice.
John Pawson’s minimal style came to global attention in 1995 with his design for Calvin Klein’s flagship store in Manhattan. The clean and utilitarian design of the store was a sharp departure from the glitzy flagship stores of the time and shocked many. The store was designed to be viewed on a monumental scale and focused purely on showcasing Calvin Klein’s latest collection.
The simplicity of Pawson’s work may appear to create blank canvases, but take a moment, and you can easily appreciate the subtle use of the materials and colors in creating these spaces that put the mind in a calm, restful state. Spanning from architecture to interiors and products, John Pawson’s works are a nod to the varying facets of minimalism. His home collection for Salvatori consists of tableware made of carrara marble, a design that highlights the food and adds to the experience of dining through luxurious minimalism. The design for Edition’s residences at West Hollywood imparts a sense of luxury through carefully chosen materials and a space bathed in light. Here, the neutral palette of the residences balance well against the expansive views of Los Angeles.
On the other end of this spectrum lies Pawson’s work for the monastery of Our Lady of Novy Dvur. Designed in concrete, white plaster, stone, and wood, the monastery provides a serene ambience that suits the ascetic life of the Cisterian monks. Here, light adds depth to the spaces and aids the monks in their life of austerity. Pawson’s redesign of St. Moritz Church in Germany follows a similar concept. The church which had been destroyed by wartime bombing was renovated by reinterpreting the architecture in a clean and modern style. White walls and cream colored limestone flooring form the majority of the church, with dark wood furniture used to create a sharp contrast. The church is filled with natural light, and combined with the minimal style of the new design ensures a clear field of view throughout. Sculptures carefully placed around the space stand out from the surroundings, while the layout and design of the church guide the eyes of the churchgoers towards the altar.
John Pawson’s diverse portfolio is a testament to his skills as a designer. From commercial spaces designed to evoke a feeling of luxury and self indulgence, to places of worship that bring about a sense of humility and introspection, his works celebrate minimalism like no other. With a utilitarian approach and a profound ability to guide light through spaces, John Pawson is the master of simple, yet thoughtfully designed spaces.
Photos: Gilbert McCarragher