John Pawson was born in 1949 in Halifax, Yorkshire. After a period in the family textile business he left for Japan, spending several years teaching English at the business university of Nagoya. Towards the end of his time there he moved to Tokyo, where he visited the studio of Japanese architect and designer Shiro Kuramata. Following his return to England, he enrolled at the Architecture Association in London, leaving to establish his own practice in 1981.
From the outset the work focused on ways of approaching fundamental problems of space, proportion, light and materials, rather than on developing a set of stylistic mannerisms - themes he also explored in his book Minimum, first published in 1996, which examines the notion of simplicity in art, architecture and design across a variety of historical and cultural contexts.
Early commissions included homes for the writer Bruce Chatwin, opera director Pierre Audi, contemporary art dealer Hester van Royen and collector Doris Lockhart Saatchi, together with art galleries in London, Dublin and New York. Subsequent projects have spanned a wide range of scales and building typologies, from Calvin Klein's flagship store in Manhattan and airport lounges for Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong to the new Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of Novy Dvur in Bohemia.
In May 2006, two decades of visits to the twelfth century Cistercian monastery of Le Thoronet culminated in an exhibition, 'John Pawson: Leçons du Thoronet', the first such intervention ever to be held within the precincts of the abbey. Two weeks after the exhibition opening in Provence, celebrations in London marked the completion of the Sackler Crossing - a walkway over the lake at Kew's Royal Botanic Gardens. The same year also marked the practice's first stage design, with a set for a new ballet choreographed by Wayne McGregor for the Royal Ballet which premiered at London's Royal Opera House in November 2006.