John Pawson: The Anecdotes

The Insightful Stories Behind the Architect's Collection of Personal Photographs

Collected over the past decade, the hundreds of images included in John Pawson's forthcoming book, A Visual Inventory, are accompanied by the story of their creation. Here Pawson reveals where, when and why each of his photographs came into existence.

Clockwise from top left:

Glass House Estate, New Canaan, Connecticut, USA. March 2011
Philip Johnson’s galvanized steel and chain-link Glass House sits on the foundation of an old cow barn, with a narrow opening to keep the deer from eating the lilies once planted in it. It’s the attenuated vista that appeals. In an interview, Johnson said: "You have the foundation therefore you build a building. You don’t know what to do with the building so you invent a function for it."

Lindos, Rhodes, Greece. September 2005
I like the rounded geometry here of the cone set on a cylinder. This dome on the roof of a whitewashed courtyard house on the island of Rhodes shares the same profile and is made from exactly the same materials as the dome on the neighboring church. The restricted openings in its thick walls allow sunlight into the vaulted spaces below, without compromising the coolness of the interior.

Near La Ina, Andalusia, Spain. March 2011
These interlocked caterpillars crossing the forecourt of a farm in Spain caught my eye. The undulating line was constantly fluctuating between order and chaos, but it was the fine gradations of texture and color—the striped soft bodies, the bleached pine needles and the stippled gravel—that ended up holding my attention, while I waited for friends to say their goodbyes.

St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London, England. March 2011
Designed by the 19th-century architect George Gilbert Scott, this restored gothic revival grand staircase layers pattern upon pattern upon pattern. The polished balustrade meanders up and round like the continuous chain of caterpillars, while the eye detects no difference in the materiality of the soft carpet and the hard encaustic tiles at the bottom of the stairwell.

Kresge Chapel, MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. August 2010

Eero Saarinen’s Kresge Chapel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was dedicated in 1955. The form is a simple brick cylinder, supported on low arches, set in a shallow concrete moat. The structure appears windowless, with pattern and texture provided by rough, irregular bricks, inserted randomly into the exterior wall’s curved surface—a gesture which is repeated inside the building.

St. Benedict Chapel, Graubünden, Switzerland. April 2010
Peter Zumthor’s St. Benedict Chapel in the Swiss canton of Graubünden replaced a baroque chapel destroyed by an avalanche. The village priest and monks at a local Benedictine monastery were in favor of a contemporary design, but Zumthor recalls that when the building permit arrived from the village authorities, it was stamped "senza perschuasiun" (without conviction). After 20 alpine winters, the larch shingles have weathered to silvery grey.

Neues Museum, Berlin, Germany. March 2009
Natural light filters down through the beehive-corbelled dome in David Chipperfield’s remodeled Neues Museum in Berlin, through a lantern of sandblasted glass and metal, onto the figure of the sun god Helios. The textural surface of the recycled brick acts as the perfect foil for the smoothness of the marble.

Preah Khan, Siem Reap, Cambodia. January 2011
The layout of the temple complex of Preah Khan in Cambodia is ordered according to the four cardinal points. Standing under the open tower, located at the central point where these axes intersect, one has clear views of north, south, east and west through the architecture. The concentrically carved, tapering column of stone, the top of which has been lost, is part of a Buddhist reliquary.

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