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Looking At London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, Through A Mega Magnifying Glass

The purveyors of bling and the king of minimalism create “Perspectives,” an installation at the 300-year-old St. Paul’s Cathedral.

At first blush, it’s as unlikely a union as Bennifer. And yet John Pawson, the esteemed British minimalist who’s staked his career on eschewing adornment, and Swarovski, the company that has found a way to cover just about everything in crystals, have partnered for an optical installation in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Titled “Perspectives,” the work, which opened to the public over the weekend to kick off London Design Week, uses a single massive crystal lens to highlight an oft-overlooked feature of Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural achievement: his spiraling geometric staircase.

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The project is part of Swarovski’s Crystal Palace, an experimental design platform that has commissioned projects by such design heavyweights as Zaha Hadid, Tom Dixon, and Yves Behar. This time around, John Pawson placed a giant crystal meniscus (the biggest Swarovski lens ever manufactured) on top of a larger reflective metal hemisphere, which, combined with a spherical convex mirror suspended nearly 75 feet above the tower’s cupola, creates a composite image of the view up through the tower for visitors gathered around the hemisphere base at ground level. According to Pawson, the setup allows people to go “beyond the level of the naked eye” to gain a perspective never before seen of the iconic structure. It’s also a fitting tribute to St. Paul’s, which celebrates its 300th year, and its architect’s attention to mathematical principles.

Says Pawson in a press release:

St. Paul’s is one of the most recognisable buildings in the country. Inevitably it’s the grand architectural moves which everyone knows–the west elevation, the nave and the dome. In collaboration with Swarovski, I have been given the chance to turn the focus on a less familiar element–the Geometric Staircase–which is a detail, but also a complete architectural moment in its own right. The cathedral is an immensely complex work of architecture and the temptation when you visit is to try to take in everything. This is about offering a spatial experience based around a single, sharply honed perspective. The form this experience takes is shaped by Wren’s own interest in creating scientific instruments out of buildings.

Leave it to Pawson to focus one’s gaze on a single element of a rich, ornate church interior. The installation is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. through September 23; the schedule is more limited after Design Week. Email visits@stpaulscathedral.org.uk or visit www.stpauls.co.uk for more info.

[Photos courtesy Perspectives by John Pawson for Swarovski Crystal Palace, ©Gilbert McCarragher]

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About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.

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