In this article on the newly refurbished church of St. Moritz in Augsburg by the designer John Pawson, the author makes a connection between the simplicity of the white-clad Pope Francis and the simplicity of the white-clad St. Moritz. Surely the author thinks he is being quite clever in making this connection, but is this a claim we should take seriously?
Pawson’s treatment of St. Moritz recalls his other recent religious commission, the Cistercian monastery at Nový Dvůr, showing a simplicity that lapses into severity:
I don’t know much about John Pawson’s theological views, though I have no reason to doubt his sincerity when he says that he finds “little to disbelieve” in religion and that he has “learned a lot from the monks’ approach to dying and death.” This does not mean, however, that the minimalist aesthetic that informs Pawson’s designs is the same as the Gospel-rooted simplicity of Francis’s “style.” Whereas Francis’s simplicity grows from a profound valuing of the human that seeks to strip away anything that would prevent authentic human engagement, Pawson’s design approach strikes me as in a sense profoundly inhuman. Whatever Pawson’s personal beliefs, his style seems to be a rejection both of the idea of human beings as the image of God and Jesus Christ as the eikon of the invisible God. Francis, on the other hand, places the imago Dei and the Incarnation at the center of things; it is these that make human encounter a path to God. Pawson’s churches speak to me of a God who is quite far off, whereas Francis’s simplicity is rooted in his faith in a God who has drawn near.
Pawson’s style perhaps makes more sense in a Trappist monastery than it does in a parish church. But even here something seems somehow not right, since Pawson brings that same aesthetic to Calvin Klein’s store in NYC:
I should add that for me the prior renovation St. Moritz by Dominikus Böhm did a good job of making the building “modern” without stripping it of everything human or organic (I might also add that Böhm did his rennovation after the church had been bombed into an empty shell in WWII):
OK, I’ll admit to having a soft spot for Böhm’s churches, largely because of his use of historic forms in a modern idiom — in this case the slightly crowded, “baroque” feel of his design, with the statues of the Apostles looming over and pressing in on the congregation. But it also somehow seems to fit more the style of a Pope whom they just can’t keep in the Popemobile.