Finding Beauty In The Unadorned Wall

John Pawson

Minimalism is a term that is often misconstrued in this day and age. It has become a sort of catch-all, with various renditions, definitions, and faces. But when witnessed in its honest form, minimalism has the ability to stir up feeling, prompting us to pause and encounter something that is both outside of and deeply within ourselves. Or, as John Pawson describes: “engage in the process of subtraction.”

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John is an architect who has spent the last four decades making rigorously simple, yet inexplicably emotional spaces. He was one of the first designers to push minimalism to the forefront of the era, and his body of work has spanned an impressive range of scales and typologies. From private houses and sacred commissions to museums, galleries, and bridges—each of his works holds tangible power and purity in the same hand.

Such uncomplicated spaces have always interested him. From the onset of his childhood, John found that unornamented rooms allowed him a sort of clarity and an uninhibited sense of freedom. He would often experiment with what made areas comfortable to be in and make radical alterations to those assigned to him. (He even went so far as to throw out all of the furniture in his bedroom at primary school.) 

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This instinctual draw toward empty spaces has since given way to an enigmatic architectural style: a signature approach to proportion and light, which accompanies a potent language comprised of windows, doors, and walls. Whether at the scale of a monastery, a house, or a ballet, everything John creates can be traced back to a consistent set of preoccupations with mass, volume, surface, proportion, junction, geometry, repetition, light, and ritual. In this way, even something as modest as a fork can become a vehicle for broader ideas related to how we live and what we value.

Read more in Issue no. 12

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