At first, Luis Barragán’s words, “Don’t look at what I do. See what I saw,” might seem like an odd call to arms for an architect whose work is famously empty of things. But not on second thought. In fact, Barragán’s may be the only words needed to guide a voyeuristic look at some 260 photographs that British minimalist architect John Pawson has snapped over the past ten years for his own edification.
A Visual Inventory (Phaidon) opens an illuminating chink into the thought processes and aesthetic revelations of an architect who has mistakenly been tagged a believer in less-is-all. Images such as a tapering streak of light alongside an extruded wall sculpture by Donald Judd, two partially constructed bridges on a highway viewed from an airplane flying over North Carolina, or the fuchsia petals of a red camellia fallen on the granite steps of a Marcel Breuer villa on Lake Maggiore abundantly testify to a sensibility that is ever alert and constantly charged by visual stimuli. These pictures give minimalism a new name: lush.
The book is organized in carefully selected pairs on facing spreads, allowing images to talk to each other and trigger sharper perceptions: gray concentric rings from rain drops plopping in a puddle on stone at a Japanese teahouse near Antwerp makes even more startling the image on the opposite page, also gray circles as if printed on a dusty floor, but actually a circular irrigation field some 2,600 feet in diameter seen from an airplane over the Rockies in winter.
Pawson’s avowed “scattergun approach”—always at the ready with a digital Canon S100, he is never afraid to use it—catalogs what appears to be a career of constant travel and fantastic access to architectural and cultural lodestones and exotic realms. Each image is accompanied with a straightforward, disarmingly chatty account of what he saw and why he snapped. Traveling through the pages of A Visual Inventory is both eye- and mind-opening.