John Pawson’s Life House

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Filed Under: Sarosh Mulla

The work of British architect John Pawson has become synonymous with a specific kind of modern luxury, that of the monastic. His work is refined, often austere and unashamedly monotone. Through the consistency of his architectural palette and his seemingly simple arrangements of spaces, Pawson has become one of the most recognisable architects of his generation. This spatial brand and its legibility make his work an ideal addition to a collection of architect-designed holiday homes marketed by Living Architecture.

Living Architecture offers accommodation for those who wish to retreat on a distinctly architectural holiday. The holiday homes are more than rented baches. Designed by innovative architects like Dutch firm MVRDV and Scottish firm NORD, as well as contemporary artists like Grayson Perry, the homes offer a chance to live for a short while in a distilled version of an architect’s ideas. Each building is symbolic of what makes the architect’s work iconic and unique, packaged up into a consumable experience.

Pawson’s consistent aesthetic is demonstrated clearly in his addition to the Living Architecture collection. The Life House is an elegant and gently refined house in mid Wales, near the diminutive town of Llanbister. Pawson designed the home drawing not only on his substantial oeuvre, but also on the thinking of philosopher Alain de Botton, the architecture of Benedictine monks and contemporary Japanese residential architecture. The result is a home which is quiet, still and contemplative.

The exterior of the house is clad in dark timber and references the vernacular gabled forms of the region. As a dark series of blocks it sits within the morose landscape as a moody, but not wholly original form. But as is the case with many of Pawson’s projects, it is the interior which is really special. The pale white bricks complement white washed timber ceilings, white concrete floors, pale sisal rugs and linen curtains. They are uncompromising in their muted appearance, meaning that one searches for further colour in the landscape framed by the large glazed panels. It is the variation in textures which makes Pawson’s interior work so well. The smooth face of the bricks is separated by the rough white mortar and supports the gently blonded timber window sill. A fine white linen curtain hangs in the window and a heavier grey wool curtain hangs over the whole assemblage. The effect is so cohesive that it feels utterly natural, like nothing is missing or superfluous.

This pale palette of materials continues through the kitchen and dining spaces, as well as the living room and study. But there are also dark, contemplative spaces to retreat to. These monastic enclosures are about shaping the way light falls into an interior. The darkness of the materials here allows us to appreciate the quality of the natural light admitted through the single skylight. In these spaces the brick changes to a dark grey, the furnishings transform to weathered leather and black stone. These are spaces for silence.

The planning of the house enables these dark spaces to be separated effectively from the bright living quarters. A long corridor with a single right angled bend connects all of the spaces. As the building bends back on itself a small courtyard is created and shelter is formed in the landscape. This way of separating out the spaces forces us to think about the different activities undertaken in each space as distinct. It also allows views from one finite interior into another through the outdoor spaces.

The Life House is undoubtedly a John Pawson and that is important to the people who visit the architecture. The design lives up to everything one might expect in reliable fashion. It is carefully composed and beautifully detailed. What is surprising though is that it achieves this without diminishing the architect’s approach to a simple roll out of the same old tricks. It does seem that in this example, elegance and clarity of design are timeless.

Author: Sarosh Mulla