John Pawson Never ask me what will work. I said Covent Garden wouldn’t work. I was here when it was a fruit and veg market. When it moved out, I said it’s not going to work for the tourists, they won’t go there.
And I’ve always hated sneakers. Of course I have to wear them, but I don’t understand why people find them good looking. I’ve missed the whole Hoxton thing, which is ridiculous given my brother-in-law is there. I was in San Francisco for the hippie thing, so at least I was there. And I was in Haight Ashbury in ’67. I was actually there, but I might as well have been Forrest Gump – because I was there, but I was like, what is this hippie thing? I keep missing major cultural moments in the city.
I’m from Halifax, in Yorkshire. It took me 31 years to get to London. I didn’t leave Halifax until I was 24. I worked for my dad in the rag trade in Halifax. I lasted about six years. And then everything sort of collapsed, and I went off to Japan to escape, and stayed there for four years, then when I came back I finally came to London. I mean, it was always my dream but I never thought I could get a job that would pay me enough to come to London.
The office has been here in King’s Cross since ’97. Before that we were in Whitfield Street [in the West End]. I live in Notting Hill, but I used to live in Battersea, and before that in South Kensington, so I’ve always been west.
London is the most comfortable and interesting place. I don’t mean comfortable physically, although it is comfortable physically, but culturally comfortable – very, very pleasant to be in. It attracts, of course, the best people. Theoretically Oxford or Cambridge should attract them. But I think London attracts the most interesting and talented people.
My practice is specific [to this city] in that I do feel most comfortable here. I was missing London when I lived in Yorkshire. But most of my work is abroad. America is the biggest market for me, although I would resist having an office there. People say that they are going to move to America, but the irony is that Americans want to move here. Because I’m English, I have a huge advantage of being slightly exotic. Americans that use me are Anglophile or Europhile, they see an edge in European culture. America ain’t Europe.
It’s that dinner party thing, a constant refrain – if you didn’t live in London where would you live? New York seems to be exciting – a place where you get things done, all that energy – there is that sense, because you’re all running around, fuelled on a high of Americanism. But when you clear all that away, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation in New York.
It’s still a thrill to see if you can change the private home, the way people live – I don’t mean radically, or madly, but just spatially, and you do need to have drive. Someone like David Adjaye is interesting. Twenty-five years, which is how long I’ve been working now, goes so quickly. You suddenly find someone like him has done 14 houses. Complacently I thought I wanted to move on. I mean, what more can I say about the London terraced house? But when I see David’s work, I think why didn’t I think of that? The trouble is, to do what he has done you need all this charm and energy to pull the client with you.
The poor people up in Finchley Road [the owners of Wakaba restaurant, which Pawson completed in 1987] – there weren’t any designed restaurants back in those days. This poor Japanese couple, they had no idea. They didn’t know that they were going to get lots of people in black coming to see it and have dinner. You know Rem Koolhaas, I read somewhere that he used to use it as a sort of office or think tank, you know. But the IRA bombed it. Blew out all the curved glass, and they never rebuilt it.