Mon­u­ment man

In an ex­clu­sive es­say of his own pho­to­graphs, John Paw­son casts light on defin­ing de­tails of his new De­sign Mu­seum in Lon­don

Wallpaper - - December -

Ar­chi­tect John Paw­son re­veals his favourite Lon­don De­sign Mu­seum de­tails in an ex­clu­sive photo es­say

‘Re­tun­ing the build­ing.’ That’s how ar­chi­tect John Paw­son mod­estly de­scribes the mam­moth un­der­tak­ing of his first pub­lic com­mis­sion, the trans­for­ma­tion of the for­mer Com­mon­wealth In­sti­tute on Lon­don’s Kens­ing­ton High Street into the new De­sign Mu­seum. The process in­volved ne­go­ti­at­ing with Ter­ence Con­ran, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the lo­cal coun­cil, and the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury So­ci­ety, gut­ting the rapidly des­ic­cat­ing 1960s in­te­rior and tak­ing down the ex­te­rior walls un­til just the Grade Ii*-listed, gazebo-like roof re­mained, propped up by four con­crete but­tresses. ‘That was a scary mo­ment,’ ad­mits Paw­son. ‘We were wait­ing for it to fall down.’

In­side, he has cre­ated a vast oak and steel cathe­dral that is both calm­ing and thrilling. ‘Peo­ple come in and say, “Wow, I never knew it was so spec­tac­u­lar.”’ The £83m ‘re­tun­ing’ is un­mis­tak­ably Paw­son – with gor­geously en­gi­neered wood­work, con­cealed light­ing, float­ing benches and lux­u­ri­ously as­cetic an­te­rooms – but there are some no­table firsts. Handrails on the stair­cases, for in­stance, and padded leather seat­ing on the stairs. ‘I know, handrails! Ridicu­lous, isn’t it?’ He’s jok­ing, of course. ‘I am old enough to know that peo­ple need to feel se­cure in pub­lic build­ings. What sur­prises me is that I’ve been able to hang on to many ‘do­mes­tic’ de­tails, like skirt­ing boards.’ He adds that he wanted to in­clude places ‘where peo­ple can perch with a cof­fee for a while, find their own lit­tle cor­ners.’

Paw­son, an ac­com­plished pho­tog­ra­pher, has doc­u­mented the trans­for­ma­tion and contributed this spe­cial edit for Wall­pa­per*.

‘The old Com­mon­wealth In­sti­tute’s fa­mous Grade Ii*-listed roof was built as a hy­ber­bolic pa­rab­o­loid con­struc­tion,’ says John Paw­son, who likes to re­fer to the build­ing as ‘the tent on the park’. ‘It was a pop­u­lar form in the 1960s be­cause it al­lowed you to have a lighter weight and a larger span. The roof’s sin­u­ous curves make it look like a sail.’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.