We recently featured the notable sale of The Walsh House on Brick & Wonder. This residence was designed by renowned architect John Pawson. The home, located in the mountains of Telluride, Colorado showcases Pawson’s career-long focus on materials, light and proportion. While the exterior reflects a rugged style, typical of Telluride’s Victorian mining era, the interior juxtaposes Pawson’s unmistakably minimalist approach. Pawson’s design employs open spaces and a spare but luxurious choice of natural materials, extending over continuous lines that connect interior spaces.
The artistic movement that brought minimalism to mainstream attention in America was seated within the insular contemporary art scene in New York, when geometric abstraction overtook abstract expressionism as the dominant force in art and design. Nonetheless, key principles of minimalism can be traced to 5th Century Chinese Taoist and Zen philosophy. By the 12th Century, Zen thought was assimilated into Japanese culture and began to influence all areas of design that touched daily life, from architecture and art, to the pottery and utensils used in tea ceremonies.
In Zen philosophy, simplicity is a concept that transcends aesthetics to convey moral truth, honesty and purity. Simplicity reveals the essential nature in objects and materials. The Japanese idea of ‘wabi-sabi’ followed the Zen idea of simplicity. Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic that celebrates economy and spareness while embracing the inherent asymmetry and roughness of natural materials, objects and processes. This concept is considered as fundamental in Japanese aesthetics as the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection are in the West.
Also derived from Zen philosophy, the Japanese principle of ‘Ma’ refers to empty space. In design and architecture, emptiness creates pause, quiet, drama or a connection between two spaces. In the mid-century modernist period of architecture, designers like Frank Lloyd Wright were influenced by the Japanese domestic concept of the sliding door. Its self-concealing motion allows the sliding door to seamlessly connect two separate spaces, in particular by allowing interior and exterior space to flow together. Modernist designers emphasized this effect with the use of floor to ceiling glass allowing an uninterrupted experience of interior and exterior space.
In much of Pawson’s work simplicity, space and the use of natural materials reflects a studious adherence to the principles of minimalism. Though many of the principles are ancient, they are made refreshing and innovative in the hands of architects who seek to access the truly emotive experience of interior and exterior space, perfectly exemplified by The Walsh House.
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