House & Garden | Diary of a Somebody

John Pawson

The architect considers the merits of bamboo and palm leaves as building materials

John Pawson

Image: Cindy Palmano

January 15 2011
John Pawson

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

Last night Catherine’s mother, Veronica, came for dinner. I describe her as the mother-in-law from heaven. She is so enthusiastic and engaged, it’s a joy to spend time with her. She draws accurately on her memory to illustrate any topic, with a poem or the lyrics to a song. She has just seen The King’s Speech, but remembers uncomfortably listening to his speeches at the time.

Five days back in London and I am still sifting endlessly through mental images of my recent travels in Thailand and Cambodia. My older son, Caius, has now sent me scans of the Polaroids he took of the holiday and it’s fascinating to have his different viewpoint. On the one hand there is Angkor Wat, so grand and harmonious, but I find myself drawn as powerfully to memories of the vernacular architecture. There is something oddly pleasing about the simple, asymmetrically-shaped homes, set on stilts and made from bamboo, wood and woven palm leaves – often now replaced with crinkly tin and plastic. The wealthier new homes, constructed in concrete and plaster, look out of place in such lush, watery settings, but I’m not sure I will persuade my clients to go that way.

After the quietness of the first part of the week, the office is filling up again. The Jaffa party has returned and Allan is finally back from Greece, having been held up by striking transport workers. Behind me, Nicholas, the team’s graphic designer, is busy collating the latest architectural models, in anticipation of the arrival next Friday of the “tres amigos” – three talented men from Madrid who produce the architecture magazine, El Croquis. This will be the second Pawson volume. They sweep in, rifle through the work and decide what they want and what they don’t. I find it difficult to relinquish control, but when I asked Zaha Hadid for advice the first time around, she said just let them get on with it, they are nice boys.

Like the exhibition at the Design Museum, the whole point of doing books is to get a fresh perspective on the work. In fact I’m thinking of putting together some sort of retrospective catalogue of the show, largely as a permanent record, but also to optimise the appraisal process for us. From time to time my wife, Catherine, asks how many professional photographers I need to document the same project and there is the inevitable ribbing about photographs of the photographs of the photographs, but each lens catches something different and I learn from them all.

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