James Carpenter brings over 40 years of experience and a rare synthesis of skills to the intersection of art, engineering, and the built environment. Born in Washington and raised in New England, Carpenter graduated with a degree from Rhode Island School of Design in 1972. He was also a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. He planned to study architecture at RISD but discovered the sculpture studio and the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly, then a teacher there. Chihuly and Carpenter collaborated on a series of neon-light sculptures, and Carpenter also went on to teach at RISD. Carpenter continued making light-based installations while also serving as a consultant at Corning Glass, where he developed new glass materials including photo-responsive glasses and glass ceramics for architectural applications. Carpenter’s art installations drew the attention of architect Edward Larrabee Barnes, who later commissioned him to create a foundational work for the Christian Theological Seminary chapel. In 1979, Carpenter established James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA), as cross-disciplinary firm working on large-scale art, architecture, and engineering projects.
Carpenter has said that “designing buildings is not the normal terrain for a sculptor, but sculpture does something that architecture often doesn’t and that is to engage the phenomenological qualities of its environment. And here light is one of the primary materials I use to accomplish this task…Like any good artist, it is important that I have a solid understanding of materials.” Carpenter believes that natural light and glass are the primary components of the built environment; transformation of the urban environment and public realm occurs as Carpenter carefully considers each site to exploit the performative aspects of light through glass. A dialogue is created between interior and exterior space, merging the beauty of the natural environment with the aesthetics of the structured world.
Recent projects by JCDA include: the exterior envelope and lobby of Seven World Trade Center Tower (2001-2006, New York); the planning, programming and design of the Israel Museum campus renewal (2005-2011, Jerusalem); the Gucci Asia Headquarters building (2003-2006, Tokyo); the University of Chicago Mid-way landscape and infrastructure linking north and south campuses (2009-2014); the expansion of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Museum at the St. Louis Arch grounds (2010-2018); the new Bornholm Cultural Museum and Art Museum Expansion (2014-2018, Bornholm, Denmark); the Sky Reflector-Net at the Fulton Center, New York (2014, New York); the Hudson Yards Podium Art Wall (2013-2018); Nordstrom’s signature Waveforms Façade for their New York City flagship store (2014-2018); and many more. Recently, Carpenter has brought his concept to residential-scale works. His Rondel Screen works allow for the play of light with the gathered image of the view out the window, creating a unique awareness of the surroundings.
Carpenter has been recognized with numerous national and international awards including: the National Environmental Design Award from the Smithsonian Institution; the American Institute of Architects Honor Award; an Academy Award in Architecture from the Academy of Arts and Letters; the “Daylight Award” from the Villum and Velux Foundations; a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship; and many more. He has founded several other architectural and consulting firms in the United States and United Kingdom and has worked with such renowned architects as Moshe Safdie, Richard Meier, and Norman Foster.