James Wines: On drawing

jamesJames Wines is an old friend of environmental design.  He was “green” long before it was so hip, it was generic.  He originally started his career as a sculptor and graphic designer, but eventually broadened his work to include architectural innovation, education, and product design.  James first opened his New York City design/architecture studio, SITE (Sculpture in the Environment), in 1970, and there he continues his work to “unite building design with visual art, landscape, and green technology”.

James  is a long-standing supporter of honing manual rendering skills along with increasingly popular digital means.  He maintains that when we turn over the translation of our brain children and creativity to a mechanical filter, the accidental incidents of genius are lost.  It is too easy to wipe the digital slate clean and plod directly and efficiently towards our preconceived vision.

Drawing ceaselessly in his studio, James considers drawing to be a path to discovery and inspiration.  “For most architects graphic representation is notional, technical, or illustrative and mainly used as an analytical tool to record design intentions.  I consider drawing more as a way of exploring the physical and psychological state of inclusion, suggesting that buildings can be fragmentary and ambiguous, as opposed to conventionally functional and determinate.”

James’ statement reminds me of Alvar Aalto’s description of his creative process. “Whenever I have to solve an architectural problem, I am inevitably held up by the thought of its realization probably due to the difficulties caused by the weight of the different elements at the moment when the design is being carried out. The social, human, technical and economic demands which are found along side psychological factors and which concern each individual and each group, their rhythm and the effect they have on each other, are so numerous that they form a maze which cannot be worked out by rational methods. The ensuing complexity prevents the idea from taking shape. In such cases, I proceed in an irrational way as follows: For a moment I forget all the maze of problems, I erase them from my mind and busy myself with something which can best be described as abstract art: I start drawing, giving free rein to my instinct, and suddenly the basic idea is born, a starting point which links the numerous, often contradictory elements already mentioned, and brings them into harmony with each other.

I am with James Wines when I say that it remains crucial to draw. Between the brain and the hand is where the magic happens.

Examples of James Wines’ and Alvar Aalto’s Sketches:  [nggallery id=34]


  1. beautiful drawings – and the essence of a hand drawn sketch cannot be replicated by the computer.

  2. My favorite SITE project was BEST stores, or something like that, especially the one with the cars paved over with asphalt. Remember that?? Also ahead of its time.

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