Simplicity and harmony as trademarks

Throughout his career, British designer John Pawson has uncompromisingly developed and maintained a highly personal interpretation of strong, modern design.

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John Pawson Profile

As a child growing up in Yorkshire in the UK, John Pawson was already conscious of architecture's deep impact on well- being, and recalls the sense of comfort he felt as he played among the 1000- year- old Cistercian ruins of Fountains and Rievaulx Abbeys.

Later, as a young man exploring the world, Pawson could instinctively identify the architectural universes that inspired him. Yet he did not consider studying architecture until Shiro Kuramata, one of Japan's most influential 20th century designers, whom Pawson met while living in Japan in the early 70s, encouraged him to do so. Pawson's experiences in Japan, particularly of the Zen Buddhist temples such as Eiheiji, affected him deeply, both aesthetically and spiritually.

 "John Pawson. Photo by Orla Connolly "


His architecture, known for its simplicity, serenity and harmony, is a testament to this formative period. Upon returning to the UK, Pawson followed Kuramata's advice, enrolling at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in 1979 for several years before concentrating on his growing scope of architectural work.

Pawson's projects caused a sensation when they found their way into architecture and interior design magazines in the early 80s. His totally simple, nearly bare interiors were radically innovative, falling outside any prevailing categories. Then as now, he could not be labeled a minimalist: the category does not encompass the sensitivity and sense of texture key to his architectural expression.

While the sublime purity and simplicity he encountered in Japan played a major role in his oeuvre, Pawson also cites other significant influences. "I have always admired Hans J. Wegner, and as a young man purchased several of his furniture pieces, including the Wishbone Chair. Wegner's ability to proportion his furniture and add details, texture and a quality finish is unsurpassed," notes Pawson, who has incorporated Wegner's designs into many projects.

Pawson's first clients came from the London art scene. In the early 80s, his interior design of London's leading gallery, owned by Leslie Waddington, became the first of many gallery projects. The assignments soon grew to include villas, apartments, restaurants and stores.

"Waddington Gallery, London"


Calvin Klein Flagship and Office

Calvin Klein had been selling his clothing in other people's shops, and in the early 90s decided to establish his own flagship store and head office in a former bank at the corner of Madison Avenue and 60th street in Manhattan. Klein had come across Pawson's work in architecture magazines and immediately saw in Pawson a perfect match for his simple, precise and sophisticated collections. Pawson delivered on the expectations, transforming the neoclassic building on Madison Avenue into a modern fashion house with bright, dramatically varied yet beautifully proportioned rooms with natural materials and a relaxed yet exclusive atmosphere.

"Calvin Klein flagship store, New York."


"Novy Dvur monastery in Bohemia in the Czech Republic. John Pawson 1999. Photo by Stefan Dold"


The store opened in 1995 to immediate international acclaim, earning the status of an architectural landmark among Manhattan's prestigious fashion houses.

Bohemia's Novy Dvur Monastery

In 1999, Pawson was asked to work on an unusual project: the new, modern Novy Dvur monastery in Bohemia in the Czech Republic. The monks had seen Pawson's projects in books and found in his work the tone, spirituality and expression they sought for their new monastery.

As part of the complex undertaking, Pawson restored the original Baroque main building, harmoniously integrating it with new buildings, including a chapel, guesthouse, agricultural buildings and visitor facilities - and outfitting several of the spaces with Wegner's Wishbone Chair.

"The Scriptorium of the Novy Dvur Monastery furnished with Wegner's Wishbone Chair."


"When we were looking for furniture for the monastery, the requirements were quite specific," Pawson explains. "It was important that the pieces we chose would sit quietly in the architectural spaces I had designed and would meet the functional needs of the community, but they also had to be consistent with the Cistercian values of modesty, simplicity and appropriateness."

"CH53 Stools in the refectory of the Novy Dvur Monastery"


Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport Lounge

Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong-based airline, wished to create the ultimate lounges for their business and first-class passengers in Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport, designed by Norman Foster Architects and opened in 1998. Pawson was chosen to design a space that would complement and interact with the architecturally striking airport while making its own compelling statement.

Envisioning a building within a building, Pawson created a structure with two terrace levels - framed by Foster's expansive, elegant steel roof - from which guests could enjoy the bustle of the airport while also being shielded from it.The space is defined by light, air and water: sunlight beams down and is reflected

"Passengers making them selves at home in Wegner's Wishbone Chair. Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport Lounge. Photo by Nacasa and Partners"


in a pool running the length of The Wing. The materials - stone, glass and steel - match the rest of the airport, while wooden furnishings add warmth and texture. Oak Wishbone Chairs furnish the partitioned individual guest spaces, while the library offers a more private interior enclosed in frosted glass and furnished with another Danish furniture icon, Kaare Klint's 1914 Faaborg Chair, produced by Rud Rasmussens Snedkerier.

"For the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong airport, the point was to create a place that people felt they could inhabit, rather than simply pass through," explains Pawson. "I wanted to move away from the types of furniture that are typically used for these sorts of spaces and choose beautiful and refined pieces that also had a domestic quality - that would help people feel at home"

"Hotel Puerta América, Madrid. Photo by Rafael Vargas"


A visionary from the outset

Pawson is, no doubt, an unusual designer. Few designers and architects have discovered their core aesthetic expression so early in their careers, and few have been able to uncompromisingly maintain that expression - as Pawson has done - across a wide variety of projects for very different clients.

With his firm principles, Pawson represents a lifestyle that trims away everything non-essential - a philosophy that extends to his restrained use of resources, which he has championed since long before the practice became commonplace.

Watch the craftsmanship that goes into making the Wishbone Chair in the video below:


The two quotations relating to the Cathay Pacific lounges and Novy Dvur monastery are extracts from an interview with John Pawson,'For me, it's all architecture,'also featured in this magazine.