St Moritz Church
by John Pawson


British architect John Pawson's minimalist remodelling of a church in Augsburg, Germany, includes slices of onyx over the windows to diffuse light more softly through the space.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson

Slices of finely veined translucent white stone were laminated to glass and installed in the choir windows. "The effect of this is to generate the optimum light conditions, screening out direct sunlight and bathing the space in a haze of diffused luminescence," John Pawson architects explained.

Update 1/08/2013: the Architects Registration Board has written to Dezeen to point out that Pawson is not a registered architect and has given us 14 days to amend this story

The apse is the brightest space in the church, followed by the nave where the altar sits on a new podium. Lighting in the side aisles is more subdued, where clerestory windows and carved sculptures of the apostles maintain links to the church's Baroque past.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson

At night the illumination comes from LED lights concealed in the choir apse, at the base of columns in the nave and in rings round the cupola domes overhead.

The floor and altar are finished in Portuguese limestone, while the dark stained wood of the pews, choir stalls and organ provides a strong contrast with the otherwise pure white interior.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson

The St Moritz Church was founded nearly 1000 years ago and has been transformed many times over by fire, changes in religious practice and bombing. After the Second World War only the baroque outer walls remained and the church was rebuilt by German architect Dominikus Böhm in a simplified post-war style.

"The work has involved the meticulous paring away of selected elements of the church’s complex fabric and the relocation of certain artefacts to achieve a clearer visual field," said the architects.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson

John Pawson is celebrated for his minimalist architecture and the firm was asked to renovate the church after the parish councillors visited his Novy Dvur monastery in the Czech Republic.

The studio is also currently working on the new Design Museum in the former Commonwealth Institute building in west London and 26 high-end apartments for a new leisure complex at Miami Beach.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson

See more architecture by John Pawson »
See more church design »

Photographs are by Gilbert McCarragher.

Here's some more information from the architects:

The church of St Moritz has been through many changes since its foundation nearly a thousand years ago. Devastating fires, changes in liturgical practice, aesthetic evolution and wartime bombing have each left their mark on the fabric of the building. The purpose of this latest intervention has been to retune the existing architecture, from aesthetic, functional and liturgical perspectives, with considerations of sacred atmosphere always at the heart of the project.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson

The work has involved the meticulous paring away of selected elements of the church’s complex fabric and the relocation of certain artefacts to achieve a clearer visual field. Drawing on existing forms and elements of vocabulary, an architectural language has evolved that is recognisable in subtle ways as something new, yet has no jarring foreign elements.

St Moritz is laid out according to the clear linear principles of a Wegekirche and this spatial character, with its strong forward focus on the apse, is retained and reinforced in the current re-ordering, with the eye purposefully drawn through the nave to the apse, which is designed as a room of light, heralded by the Baroque sculptor Georg Petel’s figure of Christus Salvator.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson

A key gesture of the intervention is the quiet transformation of the apse windows, which must function architecturally as a source of light and liturgically as an expression of the threshold to transcendence. The existing glass is replaced with thin slices of onyx. The effect of this is to generate the optimum light conditions, screening out direct sunlight and bathing the space in a haze of diffused luminescence.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson

The treatment of the apse windows represents the culmination of a wider strategy for light, whose aim is to achieve a clear distribution of light, with the apse as the brightest area in the church. After the apse, the area of the nave where the liturgy is performed is brightest, whilst the side-aisles revert to more subdued light conditions. The Baroque clerestory windows, relieved of their former function of illuminating the artwork and decoration, now serve as indirect sources of light.

St Moritz Church by John Pawson

In line with the requirements of the Second Vatican Council, the altar is relocated to a newly created island in the nave, bringing the liturgy closer to the congregation and making it possible to site the principal liturgical landmarks - the altar, the ambo and the sedilia - on a single level.

Project: interior remodelling, St Moritz Church
Location: Augsburg, Germany
Client: Diocese of St Moritz
Executive architect: Rainer Heuberger
Project architects: Jan Hobel, Reginald Verspreeuwen
Structural engineer: Dr. Schütz Ingenieure
Mechanical engineer: Ingenieurbüro Ulherr
Electrical engineer: Electro Seitz, Gattinger
Lighting design: Mindseye, Fa. Sonepar
Acoustic consultant: Müller BBM
Project manager: NPS Bauprojektmanagement
Completion: April 2013

  • Tie

    Absolutely incredible!

  • retep

    John Pawson is not an architect, he is not registered or qualified as an architect.

    • Christopher

      …and your point is? It’s a great looking project; who cares if he’s registered?

      • GMAC

        The point is that the term “Architect” is protected in the UK and can only be used by people who have passed the various RIBA examinations and registered with the ARB. This is primarily to try and stop dodgy developers from insinuating that they have any kind of formal training by using the title incorrectly.

        Clearly John Pawson is a great designer and this project is sublime, but without protection of the title then it can cheapen the profession as a whole.

        • retep

          Exactly GMAC, but as my comment has received -22 it appears the profession has already been cheapened.

          • Christopher

            Understood regarding the semantics, however if you really equate the act of attaching the term ‘architect’ to him as ‘cheapening the profession,’ then you must be misunderstanding the term ‘cheap.’

            There are myriad ‘cheap’ designers that get buildings built every year, however there will also be autodidacts who become fantastic ‘architects’ without formal training (see Ando, Piano, etc).

          • Hayden

            It’s not valid if the system hasn’t produced it.

          • Juan Galicia

            I understand the semantics of the argument and the reason why it’s a protected status but to say he “cheapens” the profession is ludicrous.

            He might not be an architect in the technical sense but he is a very successful architect in practice. Like people saying Tadao Ando shouldn´t be called an architect… snobbish nonsense.

          • dezeen_intense

            We’ve received a letter from the Architects Registration Board pointing out that Pawson is not a registered architect and giving us 14 days to amend the story.

            More details here:


          • DennyC

            The days of protecting the term ‘architect’ are numbered especially with it being used extensively in IT and politics for quite different meanings. In New Zealand we only protect the term ‘registered architect’ as a clear distinction and one that is better understood by the general public. Our ARB protects the term strongly, and good on them for doing so however, when you are dealing with a person of such high international standing in the architectural world, you will only cheapen the term through pursuit of such petty threats.

            Given his love of minimalism, how about you call him a non-architect? Stick to your guns, there are plenty of architects living in the real world who don’t see the point in protectionism.

    • Colonel Pancake

      If John Pawson isn't qualified to make architecture, let's stop making it.

    • Donato Bramante wasn’t licensed or registered by the state. Was he not an architect?

      I understand that many find it offensive that if someone doesn’t become licensed by their government, while they have, that they do not deserve the title. However, if you design and build using buildings and spaces as your medium, you are by definition, an architect.

      Someday soon, people will start to let go of this notion that the state is in charge of all these licensed privledges and we can live freely. It’s like worrying about who is a real artist. There will always be good and bad architects regardless if they’re “official” or not.

  • Hayden

    Pawson IS god.

    • Peter Z


  • Je trouve ce travail extrêmement réussi. En parfait accord avec ce lieu de prière. Un effet tout de suite très apaisant grâce au blanc.

  • Chris

    Sublime. Kinda wish I was religious now.

    • Juan Galicia

      Don´t have to be religious to love a church.

      • Chris

        You do if you want to ignore the millennia of oppression the Church is responsible for.

  • Medusa

    It is remarkable how the world of exclusive retail or business travel lounges can get a relatively similar treatment to the other worldly atmosphere of religious places. This might be a comment on the status of religion or maybe about the nature of luxury shopping.

    …and perhaps the Church was already sublime before getting its customary coat of ‘sublime’ whiteness.

  • silicon m

    Beautiful work, well executed, excellently detailed, well thought out perspectival set outs and vision. Generally a wonderful ambiance and sense of space.

    A very mature and well owned design concept, especially the elliptical language that continues thematically throughout the whole project.

    Congratulations John. Fantastic work.

  • Not registered : )

    A lot of the so called greats of your profession were not qualified. Pritzker prize winners – Luis Barragan, Tadao Ando, Peter Zumthor. Others – Mies, Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright. I can list more if you wish? You don’t need to have been a horse to be a jockey.

    • retep

      I’m not saying that. I’m saying he can’t be called an Architect legally.

      • smack

        Exactly. So the use of the phrase “British Architect” in the article is very problematic. I don’t see why people are disagreeing with you retep.

        • Tom

          People disagree because they really don’t care. They care that buildings like this get built.

  • Beautiful!

  • Ben

    Shame there is more reverence for the building than for Jesus. However, that said, with regards to the building itself, the white rendered interior is a beautiful symbol of the book of revelation 7:14 – They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.

    • smack

      Are people seriously downvoting this? I’m not Christian but I don’t think there’s a problem with Christians thinking the reaction to the Christian church isn’t Christian enough.

    • dave

      “Traditional” religious buildings are ALL about reverencing the building than the actual religious ideology – Jesus was said to be frugal, yet the church used its power and influence to build monuments of its power and influence (cathedrals?), partially to attain more power and influence.

      Why do you think the church held vast assets in land and precious metals, at times organised militaries? To demean a beautiful design as subtracting from the “true purpose” of a religious building is I’m afraid, total hypocrisy.

  • Stunning.

  • marie

    Whether J.Parson is or is not an architect does not really matter. He is an artist and his work is just stunning. He made the complex simple and serene. Maybe in such environments, prayers will finally be at ease for the serenity they seek. Who knows, maybe this is a path to humility? Just my thoughts.

  • Britta Gertsen

    Stunning. Perfect place to let your thoughts flow freely.

  • ann videriksen

    Interesting discourse…Pawson isn’t an architect, Ando isn’t an architect. Both are masters of architecture.

  • Desk

    We are unlike. I am unarchitect. Pawson is not trying to be an architect. He doesn’t need to be one. He’s had years of experience that is definitely beyond banality. Some people are just insecure and it shows.

    There are tonnes of incompetent, horrendously inadequate architects out there that just carry the title and do rubbish work with it. Given the determination and a big student loan, anyone can be an architect.

    Not everyone’s a great designer. When you get published here, you are either very good, newsworthy, scandalous or downright controversial like the fast China skyscraper.

  • Is it too hard to accept that one man is or is not an architect? We see here how the man himself tries every day to disqualify the ego of other so-called architects. If they have done beautiful work then have the humbleness to say “wow I love his work!”

    Then we wonder why we live in times of war against each other? Let’s just accept he is brilliant at what he does. Da Vinci or Miguel Angel didn’t have title.

  • GMAC

    For the record I wasn’t suggesting that John Pawson “cheapens” the profession. Clearly there are numerous examples of people who have designed fantastic, enduring architecture without passing an exam and paying a registration fee.

    I was referring to the overall situation that I descibed in my first paragraph about unscrupulous builders and developers using the title for financial gain whilst potentially giving architects a bad name. This is a genuine problem. Apologies for the offence I seem to have caused.

    • stevek

      I really don’t think you need to apologise, though I think your comment could have been made more unambiguously in the context of an aggressive critique of architecture. Namely, that it is not enough to afford legal protection to the term “architect’ and then assume that “architecture” is that which is produced by “architects”.

      On the contrary, architecture should be able to be distinguished by its quality (something like the quality discussed by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) and only someone who produces architecture should be afforded the honorific “architect”.

      But of course, that doesn’t work in any simple credentialing system where all you are trying to do, really, is to afford some crude protections to badly informed consumers, while distorting the market for a particular service. Which is all that the various architects’ registration acts in Commonwealth countries seem to achieve.

  • Dear GMAC,

    If your aim is to protect the quality of “architecture” please explain to me why your organization protects the title of your many “registered” and, of course, ARB contribution-paying architects who yearly produce, in my opinion, loads of total sh*t.

    At least be a bit honest. The ARB is not about protecting the quality of architecture at all but all about protecting its paying members wallets – regardless of the merits to society.

    Pawson is a “maker or producer of architecture”. I believe that Dezeen is legally entitled to name him such. Ask your lawyers. And in fact your attack is actually degrading the title as it becomes more and more painfully clear that many of the best architects are not architects.

  • Refreshingly serene interior space – why no images of the exterior for context and transition at least? Qualify – and take the exams John.

  • dp73

    Pawson is a fantastically talented architectural designer, but not an architect. Being an architect involves a hell of a lot more than being able to design a beautiful building, the same as how a chartered accountant doesn’t just have to be good at maths.