Juxtaposed: The Atmosphere of History

By Jo Phillips


British architect John Pawson is world renowned for his minimalist style, approaching fundamental problems such as space, light and materials with constant originality. His new project – a host of exclusive W apartments in the ancient port of Jaffa, Tel Aviv – is due to be completed in 2015. It is collaboration between RFR Holding and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, but will be branded under W Hotels whose portfolio boasts luxury South Beach Hotel in Miami.

The new W residences are unique in their total balance of the aspects of the city’s port heritage with dynamic, modern comforts. Pawson, however, doesn’t necessarily want this blend to mix seamlessly.

“I think the experience will be richer for there being a slightly different sense of place and atmosphere in different parts of the site: you want to be conscious of where you are”.

Whether they are taking a moment of reflection in the brightly-lit chapel, staring at the vaulted ceilings, or feeling the sun on their skin through the stained glass windows, Pawson wants those existing in his buildings to exist there consciously, and believes his minimal style is able to support such self-awareness.

“I have never equated architectural minimalism with an absence of sensuousness. What could be more tactile or visually pleasing and at the same time simpler than an expanse of honey-coloured limestone? For me it’s about making the best possible contexts for the things which matter in life, on paring back to what is essential, so that ordinary experiences like taking a shower or preparing a meal feel special and important.”

This worldview is reminiscent of Buddhist mindfulness, where the calm awareness of one’s body and mind is paramount. This blend of ancient philosophies is crucial when designing for an area with such a mix of cultures. Pawson celebrates the diverse cosmopolitanism of Jaffa, but sees a similar psychological reaction to space in people of all cultural backgrounds:

“As an architect I think one is particularly aware of the way in which, in the end, the same spatial conditions tend to make people feel comfortable, regardless of culture and religion: when you step into a space and you feel at home, in the sense of being visually, physically and emotionally at ease. This is my goal, to create gathering spaces that everybody feels good to be in”.


Pawson’s extensive experience in working in landscapes of historical significance (such as Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of Nový Dvůr in Bohemia and the former Commonwealth Institute in London) ensures that this aim of total emotional and physical comfort will not be missed. To guarantee this, the future residents will have full access to the facilities of the adjacent W Tel Aviv – Jaffa hotel, including the restaurant, spa, fitness room and shuttle to the beach club. Alongside the panoramic views of the Mediterranean sea, these luxuries should be able to induce a state of relaxation in anyone.

Pawson’s apposition of simple modernity with rich, vibrant history seems to perfectly fit his exacting mission statement: “Regardless of context, I am always trying to make places with atmosphere, where the light is beautiful and the proportions feel good”.

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