A Visual Inventory

Architect John Pawson reveals a photographic scrapbook of inspiration

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In his career architect John Pawson has designed monasteries for Cistercian monks and constructed boutique shopping locales. He has sketched concepts for yachts, created lounges for Hong Kong airlines, and has even published the deliciously simple cookbook “Living and Eating” (previously on CH). Bringing a sharp eye for minimal design, the architect has embraced a wide range of production, fed by limitless sources of inspiration. At a young age, Pawson began obsessively photographing such inspiration for his own projects, and it’s a habit he continues today. From more than 250,000 images Pawson selected 130 pairs of pictures to create “A Visual Inventory” as a glimpse into the architect’s creative process.


Billed as little more than “snapshots” by Pawson himself, the collection is not so much about flawless photography as it is the interplay of lines and textures that feed an architect’s eye. “Mine is a scattergun approach,” he writes. “When I take a picture, there is always a reason in my mind, but a camera, when it is used as freely as mine, it is a tool for plurality, catching everything from previously undetected elements of repetition to unregistered details of narrative incident.”


The book builds off of the concept of an “inventory”, both in the traditional sense of a collection of assets as well as a list of preferences, attitudes and interests. Some may be surprised that Pawson—an unflinchingly minimalist architect—draws from such an eclectic mix of influences. His sources include biological phenomena, human refuse, archaelogical architecture and swaths of formless texture.


The collection essentially details the mind of an architect, and can be thought of as a kind of sourcebook for designers. Each photograph is accompanied by a short blurb that calls out Pawson’s personal reaction to the image. Selections are laid out in pairs that speak to each other, which becomes especially interesting when combinations are unexpected: railway tracks reflect dead leaves suspended in spider webs as tree roots mirror the contrails from a fleet of airplanes.


“A Visual Inventory” is available from Phaidon and on Amazon.