Examining James Wines’s Humanistic Approach to Sustainability

A new exhibition at Berlin's Museum for Architectural Drawing presents dozens of the architect-artist's imaginative and often sarcastic drawings.
world ecology pavilion james wines

An exhibition in Berlin takes stock of the work of James Wines, focusing on his eclectic mode of green architecture. On view are his drawings of the World Ecology Pavilion designed for Expo ’92 in Seville, Spain, whose seven ecological strips correlate with the continents, and ‘Vertiscape’ Parks , one of several designs that contemplate verticality as a foundation of urban sustainability. © James Wines

The American architect-artist James Wines is best known for his sarcastic, acerbic designs that critique consumerism and globalization. But he was also an early and prolific thinker on sustainable building, though his humanistic approach contrasts with the field’s development into a somewhat technocratic, homogenizing endeavor.

On display November 28, 2020–March 7, 2021, an exhibition at the Tchoban Foundation’s Museum for Architectural Drawing in Berlin will excavate Wines’s critical notion of sustainability through the lens of drawing, which curator and museum director Nadejda Bartels calls “essential…even nowadays in the digital age.” Encompassing some 60 drawings, James Wines and SITE: Retrospective 1970–2020 will foreground a theme of context, Bartels adds: “How can architecture be in harmony with the landscape situation of the site and still remain an artwork on its own?” (SITE, the studio Wines founded in 1970, is an acronym for Sculpture in the Environment.)

Wines is characteristically undeterred by constraints of economics, politics, or even gravity, a conceptual indefatigability that drove designs such as his ‘Vertiscape’ Parks. Similarly, the drawings on display show the primacy of the user in his designs, evincing a humble attention to how and what his environments communicate to the public. “From Wines’s drawings we can also see his humor regarding his own projects,” Bartels says, “as if he would recommend not to take oneself too seriously.”

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Categories: Arts + Culture, Sustainability