// november 14, 2014 //
The minimum could be defined as the perfection that an artifact achieves when it is no longer possible to improve it by subtraction. This is the quality that an object has when every component, every detail, and every junction has been reduced or condensed to the essentials. It is the result of the omission of the inessentials.
Definitions of simplicity are not easy. It is an elusive quality, and the wide geographical and historical spread of the very different cultures that have been interested in its attractions over the ages does not make it any easier to define its essence, However, there are a number of qualities that are likely to be conductive of simplicity.
The pioneers of modernism of course made simplicity part of their agenda. While high modernism certainly embraced it, simplicity in architecture cannot be equated with modernism alone. It is an older, richer and broader tradition than that.
‘The difference between a good and a poor architect is that the por architect succumbs to every temptation and the good resists it.’
Some cultures attract more than others: Japan, Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece, Mayans. But is maybe the sixteen-century Japan and its embrace of the process of improvement and refinement over long periods one of the most fascinating. Sitting in the Katsura Palace, looking over the moon viewing lake, with traditional cake and tea, is a distillation of everything that attracts to simplicity. Nothing is wrong, not one thing, the table, the tray, the view, the lake, the process of getting there, and then of leaving again. Everything is perfect. That is not to say you can repeat this perfection in the West in a literal way. There is something faintly ridiculous about Japanese gardens that are not in Japan.
In our world there is the simple beauty of the functional, which was until very recently a living tradition, and present in every pre-industrial society. Simple tools and craftsman-made dwellings all had an unaffected artlessness that showed a remarkable power and quality.
-The mass, the uncomplicated beauty of the unadorned wall.-
Both scale and proportion are tools that the designer can bring to bear in creating artifacts, buildings or spaces that have the quality of simplicity. Donald Judd used to call proportion ‘reason made visible’.
Natural light has an important role in bringing living spaces to life. Light, and its play on architectural spaces, inside and out, has the power to shape and transform them.
*text extracts from ‘minimum’ by John Pawson