British designer John Pawson has collaborated with architect Jan Hobel to transform the St. Moritz church into one heavenly space. While its foundations were set nearly 1,000 years ago – fires, wartime bombings, and shifts in liturgical practice and aesthetics have all left this Augsburg, Germany place of worship fair game for one dramatic re-tune.
Upon entry, one is immediately struck by the universal wash of white which is softly grounded by a pale Portuguese limestone floor and altar. To provide contrast, Pawson brought in dark wood for use on the pews, choir stalls and the church organ. Along the side aisles, controlled visual interest was added by positioning the church’s carved religious figures within white alcoves, setting them off like statues in a museum.
Although Pawson’s pared down transformation is nothing short of dramatic, care was taken to maintain the defining touchstones of the church’s architecture. One goal was to emphasize the church’s traditional central axis with the apse as its focal point. While the existing linear structure already directed all eyes towards the apse, Pawson created a hierarchical lighting scheme to further highlight the church’s stage. Here, great care was taken to not only to control the quantity of light coming in but also the quality. Pawson achieved his goal of an ample but soft lighting condition by replacing the existing glass windows with thin slices of onyx. In contrast, the side aisles, lit only by the church’s baroque clerestory windows, were left to take on a dimmer level of light.
Standing as the latest in a line of several Pawson church renovations, St. Moritz is another step in what seems to be the development of a beautiful new language in church architecture. Bravo Mr. Pawson!
Photography by Gilbert McCarragher