History of Our World

John Pawson

Posted in Architecture, Print by R on October 22, 2009

Barn, John Pawson

Tilty Barn, Essex, 1995

Barn, John Pawson


Barn, John Pawson


Barn, John Pawson


John Pawson was never meant to be an architect. As far as his father was concerned, his life was to be defined by Eton, Oxford and the family textile business. However, touched by the incendiary spirit of the late 1960’s, Pawson left school without completing his final exams, and even though he did his best in the family firm, he was acutely aware that he would never be able to match the business skills of his father.

It was time spent in Japan that turned him to thinking about architecture, and his connections with the London art world gave him the chance to put those experiences to practical use when he came back from Asia. Pawson had gone to Japan for the first time back in 1973, to escape from the emotional turmoil of an abandoned wedding. In the aftermath, he met someone at a party who offered him a first-class round-the-world ticket for £200, which he accepted without question. Tokyo was his first stop, partly inspired by a fascination with Zen and Japan, and a notion of becoming a Buddhist.

Akira Hayakawa, a karate instructor who had taught Pawson in Chester-le-Street when he was working in the family textile factory nearby, met him at Nagoya airport and introduced him to what was anything but the Japan of the Samurai and tea ceremonies that Pawson had been expecting. Instead, he found himself negotiating a grim landscape of of car factories, endless concrete developments with power cables dangling from every available surface, brash neon-lit Pachinko parlors and claustrophobic subways crammed with people.

Pawson, however, was determined to absorb himself in the Japan of his imagination and, upon arrival, insisted on staying at a ryokan. Part of the routine was a diet of fish paste and pickles for breakfast, a damp bed and a nine o’clock curfew. Still, this did not deter Pawson from further exploring his ideas about Buddhism and his genuine attraction to the monastic life. His friend Akria humored his plans and drove him to one of the most beautiful monasteries in Japan, at Ei-Heji in the North. While his brief stay at the monastery cured him of his desire to live as a Buddhist monk, Pawson retains a fascination and respect for both the spiritual and aesthetic concepts of Buddhism, which he still draws on for inspiration today.

Image / Fi McGhee & John Pawson (1999). Barn. London: Booth-Clibborn Editions

Text / Deyan Sudjic (2000). John Pawson: Works. London: Phaidon


John Pawson


Booth-Clibborn Editions

B & R


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