John Pawson


Temple Of Diana, Sounion, Greece

©Monica Pidgeon

I think people are very surprised when they come to my lecture, having seen some of the work as I think they have this idea that perhaps it all came out of nowhere and that it's something very, very modern, this idea of simplicity. I always say there's nothing new about my work. Of course it's my interpretation of principles and ideas that really go back to the beginning and there's this common thread throughout civilisation, the last five thousand years. Where there have been these, perhaps, minorities who have been attracted by the notion of travelling light, and by using simplicity as a means of living and perhaps as a means of creating a kind of an artistic thing. And then I tend to show work like Cistercian monastic architecture; or Shakers' buildings and artefacts; or examples of Islamic architecture, Granada; or in fact classical architecture, Rome and Greece, things like the Pantheon; and even Neolithic, Stonehenge and things like that. Even though I spent four years in Japan teaching and studying architecture, I really went there because I already was fascinated by this notion of simplicity; and of course the Japanese, probably around the sixteenth century, I think brought it to its absolute peak. But I think, much more than Japan probably, is my background from Halifax. It's the nineteenth century master-builders in Halifax that I think influenced me the most.


Dean Clough Mills, Halifax

©Susan Crowe

I've only come to realise that since working on a project in Halifax, Dean Clough Mills, where I was forced to examine the existing architecture which is this wonderful kind of urban complex made out of York stone. And then all the things that I really like in architecture, and I use in fact to create my architecture, things like repetition, repetition of form like the very simple fenestration, the ramps, the steps, the sort of massiveness and simplicity, and the materials and just the whole kind of thing there has been a tremendous influence. A lot of people use the word 'minimalism' to describe what I do, which I suppose is an easy way for people to describe it. Of course it's far from minimal. The work is highly complex, it's very difficult to achieve. My work relies to a huge extent on material. And it's that choice of material. When I start to work I do very little drawing, although I have a very clear idea of the space that I want to achieve. And of course space, there is for me the prime thing, for me architectures all about space. And I tend to do a few quick drawings on paper, although I'm very reluctant to get drawn into plans, because I think plans are very seductive and only two-dimensional, and what can look good on plan doesn't necessarily look good in the round, and so I tend to build it up through use of models and views and of course, lately, obviously using a computer. But what interests me is using material and light and also obviously playing with scale and proportion. I like pushing things to the limit. I like attenuated spaces and compression. I think I deliberately make walls thick so that you can feel the space when you go through them. And I like rooms that have views. I always try to give a room, however small; a vista.

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