The London-based architect John Pawson is one of the world’s great champions of minimalism, known for rigorously paring back a building to its essential elements. But while his rooms can sometimes seem physically empty, they’re also imbued with an extraordinary presence that verges on the sublime. Soaring ceilings and strategic lighting – whether artificial or via cleverly fashioned skylights and large-scale windows – combine to create an effect that’s simply awe-inspiring. Whether residential, retail or religious, these are buildings that demand a quiet contemplation. Here are three of our favourite Pawson structures.
RESIDENTIAL: BARON HOUSE, SWEDEN
Pawson’s spare, modern style is right in keeping with the Scandinavian approach to interiors and design, and the Swedish summer home he created for art director Fabien Baron is a perfect example of this. Designed as a set of four “wings”, the home borders a central courtyard, while the exterior-facing glass walls offer sweeping views of the rural landscape. The buildings themselves are informed by local materials and traditions, such as the use of black Falun paint for the exteriors, a traditional painting method that’s been used in Scandinavia for centuries. Indoors, the pared-back Scandi furniture offers the ideal complement to the structure.
RETAIL: CALVIN KLEIN FLAGSHIP BOUTIQUE, NEW YORK
Back in the 1990s, designer boutiques signified their status by being impressively austere and minimal – and none was as impressive as Pawson’s Madison Avenue flagship for Calvin Klein. With its stone floors and high ceilings the boutique was like a modern-day cathedral to fashion; indeed, the New York Times described it as being “like the nave of a church, with pew-like wooden furniture”. Double-storey plate glass windows turned the entire boutique into a gallery for passersby, and the artist Donald Judd designed pared-back pine benches specifically for the space. Pawson has since created boutiques for Christopher Kane, Jil Sander and more, but none has had quite as profound an effect on retail as the Calvin Klein flagship.
RELIGIOUS: ST MORITZ CHURCH, GERMANY
From a place of retail worship to an actual church, Pawson’s reworking of this 1000-year-old Catholic church is simply sublime. The expected gildings and embellishments have been completely stripped away to highlight the sweeping ceiling and mesmerising archways, while priceless religious artifacts line the walls. This isn’t Pawson’s only ecclesiastical work – he’s also designed a stunning Cistercian monastery in the Czech Republic. Urban legend tells the story of the monks touring Pawson’s own minimalist London home beforehand and declaring it too pared-back even for a monastery. It may be apocryphal, but it makes for an amusing anecdote.
Written by Michelle Bateman