My Cultural Life: John Pawson

The minimalist architect shares the music, movies, people and places that have shaped him

john pawson london
orla connolly

Designer and architect John Pawson is the master of modern minimalism. His London practice, founded in 1981, has built houses, airport lounges, Christopher Kane’s London flagship store and the vast Design Museum in South Kensington. As articulate as he is architectural, Pawson has penned books and posts a monthly journal on the studio’s website accompanying snaps of shapes, textures, light and colours that catch his eye. The latter inspired a book: Spectrum (Phaidon, £45)

john pawson spectrum book
John Pawson

My all-time favourite piece of music would have to be any one of Beethoven’s sonatas or an organ work by Bach.

At the moment I am listening to work by the saxophonist Kamasi Washington, mostly because of a powerful memory from a trip to Iceland this summer, when he gave a midnight concert of improvised modern jazz in a 19th-century church in Reykjavik.

saxophonist kamasi washington
Saxophonist Kamasi Washington
Benjo Arwas

A record that makes me instantly happy? I’d have to say any track that one of the family puts on before dinner. Something that triggers a spontaneous dance in the kitchen.

The books that have influenced me the most are anything and everything about Mies van der Rohe’s life and philosophy. It’s possible to learn so much from a single annotated drawing because he never did anything that wasn’t perfect. I don’t believe in heroes, but he was an exceptional man.

A favourite painting is Pieter Saenredam’s Interior of the Buurkerk at Utrecht. I will sometimes go off to the National Gallery on the spur of the moment to have a look at it.

the interior of the buurkerk at utrecht pieter saenredam
Pieter Saenredam’s Interior of the Buurkerk at Utrecht
Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

I don’t collect anything. When I was six, I lost a much-prized set of Parker pens on Blackpool beach during a school trip. I was inconsolable and resolved then never to become so attached to anything material again. It’s a life rule I have largely adhered to, with the exception of a few pieces of art.

The famous quote that always makes me think is Mies van der Rohe’s ‘Less is more’. The words have been over-used and misapplied over the years, but they do express an important truth. There are also certain phrases I find myself repeating all too often. For my 60th birthday, the team at work made me a set of T-shirts printed with some of my most used expressions, including ‘fit in or fuck off ’ and ‘where’s the letter that says I’m a genius?’

For an entertaining evening, there is, for me, no greater treat than to have friends and family round for dinner. That said, I recently went to the River Café’s 30th anniversary party, which was a very special evening – everyone came with their own personal memories of shared meals and milestones there.

art installation of a prada store in marfa, texas
The Prada Marfa project by Elmgreen and Dragset in Texas
Michel Arnaud

My favourite place in the world is Marfa, Texas. It has everything – the weather, the food, endless desert landscapes and sublime art (Prada Marfa project by Elmgreen and Dragset). I’d like to visit the Faroe Islands next summer; on one of the islands (Vágar) there’s a lake that’s six kilometres long, one end of which sits on a cliff 30 metres above sea level.

faroe islands northern atlantic leitisvatn cliff
The breathtaking lake on Vágar, the Faroe Islands
dataichi - Simon Dubreuil

As for household Christmas traditions, I’m conscious we don’t have as many as my parents did – including the box of Cox’s Orange Pippin apples and the troublesome maiden aunts. I’m not wild about having a Christmas tree, but I do love holly and mistletoe.

The best Christmas presents often come from my son, Caius. He always comes up with something incredibly thoughtful and extravagant in terms of his time – which, really, is the only form of extravagance that makes sense to me. @johnpawson;

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