John Pawson Plain Space at the Design Museum opens with; “…I think a plain space near the eye gives it a kind of liberty it loves; and then the picture, whether you choose the grand or beautiful, should be held up at its proper distance. Variety is the principle ingredient in beauty; and simplicity is essential to grandeur.” William Shenstone, 1714 – 1763.
I prefer Pawson’s far simpler explanation; “I’m from Yorkshire – plain speaking, plain space.” Central to the exhibition, and bringing this concept to life, is the 1:1 installation pictured above, a first for the Design Museum, created to give visitors a direct experience of John Pawson’s approach to architecture. Inside it has a quiet, calm sense of peace and space – a wonderful representation of the simplicity, grace and visual clarity for which Pawson is known.
It’s easy to see then why Pawson described the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of Nový Dvůr in the Czech Republic as “the project of a lifetime.” Described by the New York Times as the “father of modern architectural minimalism,” he is known for a rigorous process of reduction, resulting in architecture that is stunning in its simplicity, featuring only what’s needed. The parallels with the monastic way of life are hard to miss.
“Necessity, utility, simplicity… Such a poverty is not a constraining destitution, but a decision to avoid the superfluous, the artificial, the complicated…” (Abbot of Sept-Fons)
“The state of minimum is not one of austerity nor deprivation. It is clarity of space.” (John Pawson)
In some ways this project could be described as the epitome of architecture. Architecture at its best responds perfectly to the needs of the inhabitants and their way of living within the space.
The strict observance of monastic ritual and sheer amount of time spent within the monastery means that the impact of the monks’ environment and its ability to support their way of life is crucial.
The Abbot of Sept-Fons said “Even if the architect sometimes resisted, the man understood both what we expected of him and the characteristic we most admire in him – namely that he knows how to listen to us without ceasing to defend his own preferences.”
Plain Space also features the Sackler Crossing at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and the Calvin Klein store on Madison Avenue, New York, and finishes on 30th January 2011. A book, also called Plain Space, has been written by Alison Morris.
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Further reading for the especially geeky:
- John Pawson on Plain Space: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=t9Y4JE69BJA
- The blog that accompanies the exhibition: http://www.plainspace.co.uk/
- Dezeen: http://www.dezeen.com/2010/09/23/dezeen-podcast-john-pawson-at-the-design-museum/
- Does minimalism matter? http://www.3quarksdaily.com/3quarksdaily/2010/09/does-minimalism-matter-1.html
- To be a minimalist… or a maximalist: John Pawson and Lucy Orta: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2004/apr/19/guesteditors1