December's book of the month The Phaidon Book Club

Spectrum - John Pawson

The Design Museum has partnered with Phaidon to launch a new book club, exploring a range of design topics, themes and practices. The second title in the series explores "Spectrum", by John Pawson, the award-winning designer.

“Colour is an attribute people don’t necessarily associate with my work,” says the minimalist architect John Pawson. “There is a longstanding presumption that it is all about whiteness. The truth is that it is impossible to talk about any architecture — including my own — without talking about colour. Le Corbusier described architecture as masses brought together in light. And as soon as you have light, you have colour. As Goethe put it, ‘Colours and light stand in the most intimate relation to each other’.”

The connection between photography and architecture is an intimate one. They are each ‘deeds of light’ as Pawson puts it in the introduction to his new book Spectrum. In it, his photos – a broad range of varied yet related visual ideas, shot around the world - are arranged by colour to form a continuous, sequence.

“I am an architect before anything,” Pawson says. “At the same time the act of taking photographs is of the essence of how I work. I have an emphatically visual memory and a strong instinct for using images to archive my thoughts and experiences. Where others might sketch or make notes, my reflex is to reach for a lens.”

Each of the 320 photographs in the book — selected from a collection measured in hundreds of thousands — represents one such moment of reaching for the lens. They include fragments of narratives of individual projects, but also far-flung travels and observations of the moment — the tiny things that catch the eye in the course of an ordinary day. “Mine is a greedy eye, hungry for anything of interest,” the architect says. “Years later, the memory of a wall in a Kyoto ryokan or the weathered grain of a church pew in Gloucestershire, preserved as a digital file, might serve as the perfect reference for a project in Stockholm or West Hollywood.”

In the context of the book, a forthcoming photograph’s location prepares the eye to look for certain colours even before the next page is turned. As Pawson puts it: “What began as a simple project to use colour as a tool to edit and order a selection of photographs has become both a creative act in its own right and an invitation to engage.”

If you would like to discover more about Spectrum, you can buy the book from the Design Museum shop.

Spectrum, John Pawson, Phaidon

Spectrum, John Pawson, Phaidon, open at images 55-56

Spectrum, John Pawson, Phaidon, open at images 77-78

Spectrum, John Pawson, Phaidon, open at images 125-126

Spectrum, John Pawson, Phaidon, open at images 143-144

Spectrum, John Pawson, Phaidon, open at images 167-168

Spectrum, John Pawson, Phaidon, open at images 205-206