LDF: John Pawson 28.02.12

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The architect's insertion into St Paul's, on display until 16 January, turned Wren's cathedral into a large-scale scientific instrument.

Of the four Landmark Projects at this year's London Design Festival, only one was by a designer – the Bouroullec brothers' Textile Field at the V&A, where viewers lounged in front of Raphael cartoons on a carpeted conversation pit that stretched the length of the gallery. The rest were by architects: outside the museum's entrance was Amanda Levete's Timber Weave, an elegant, spiralling arch in latticed oak; on the South Bank, David Chipperfield showed Two Lines, a minimalist maze made from panels of high-tech glass.

And, on the Geometric Staircase at St Paul's, John Pawson presented Perspectives, perhaps the most dramatic of the festival's installations, which turned the south-west tower of Christopher Wren's cathedral into a huge optical trick.

When we meet at his office, Pawson shows me a section of the Monument, for which Wren built a basement laboratory and whose core he had hoped would house a giant, zenith telescope (the urn that crowns the structure had a hinged lid, so it could be opened to the sky). Apparently Wren designed the Geometric Staircase at St Paul's with a similar dual purpose in mind, which inspired Pawson's scientific intervention in the building.

A crystal meniscus – the largest lens that can be commissioned – sits on a highly polished stainless steel surface and, at the top of the staircase, another mirror looks down from the cupola. When you look down into the stainless steel you see the underside of the staircase, a gravity-defying spiral in Portland stone, while the concave lens magnifies the reflection of the convex mirror 23m above, offering a composite perspective otherwise invisible to the naked eye. Viewers crowded around the font-shaped sculpture, as if gazing into a crystal ball.

"I just wanted to show people what Wren had done, really," Pawson says of the project, "and try to get them to focus in some way."

 

Image

London Design Festival

 

Words

Christopher Turner

quotes story

I just wanted to show people what Wren had done, really, and try to get them to focus in some way

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