James Wines and SITE: Retrospective 1970–2020, Berlin (Germany), Tchoban Foundation. Museum for Architectural Drawing, 28 november 2020 / 7 march 2021
Sustainability, climate change, global warming, ecological awareness, energy-saving construction, green architecture... These terms are ubiquitous in our vocabulary today, reflecting the urgency of current challenges, including those confronting urban life. Fifty years ago, it was certainly different – particularly in the United States, a country that, due to its size, continues to depend on well-functioning infrastructure and industries such as car manufacturing, while facing multiple tasks, from resolving the problem of population density and avoiding the formation of ghettos to creating pleasant, green urban environments. In the USA, James Wines and his firm SITE were pioneers in the conception of sustainable, ‘green’ solutions to counter increasing pollution, overpopulation and urban density.
The architectural firm SITE (Sculpture in the Environment), which is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year and to which this retrospective is dedicated, was founded by the artist and architect James Wines. SITE is more than just a pioneer in green design, especially considering that the idea of embedding architecture in the environment is hardly new. SITE’s work is unique for many more reasons. One is the high level of artistic skill manifest in Wines’s drawings, which reveal a steady, practiced and trained hand. Wines originally comes from the arts and studied sculpture along with literature and art history. This shines through in his designs – many projects, especially his series for the BEST stores, look like objects of art, like installations, sculptures or art in public space. Wines has repeatedly emphasised the role that manual design plays for him, arguing that the human brain is much more complex than any computer programme. Computers use algorithms; human beings use imagination. The second guiding theme concerns the embedding of architecture in context. This can be traced wonderfully in the drawings – for example, in the work on the Four Corners Monument or the BEST branch store in Florida, with its tropical rainforest planted behind a glass façade alluding to the locality. But SITE is also about innovation, visions for the future of our densely populated cities, for how we want to combine nature and urban environment. One possibility is the Highrise of Homes developed by Wines and often copied by others: a high-rise building that, whatever the number of storeys, takes the human scale into account by accommodating on each floor a kind of detached house with a garden or a farm for the residents.
The work of SITE is inextricably linked with the personality of its founder, whose critical view of social developments can also be seen in some of the works in the exhibition, such as the picture of the Egyptian sarcophagus adorned with various trademarks of junk culture and consumer society. What is our message to future generations, what will remain once we are gone, what is sustainable, what endures? What cultural monuments from our time will future archaeologists excavate?