Interview with Architect James Wines, Vancouver
You were a sculptor before you became associated with architecture.
I was doing some sculptural commissions for architecture, but I felt that sculpture was not participatory enough. I was tired of the exhibition context, it wasn’t public enough. I lived in Italy for ten years and the greatest experiences that I had related to seeing some incredible church, monastery or palace. I’d be driving on some hillside and all of a sudden an example of this harmonious fusion would hit me. I had that occur enough times to realize that nothing I’d ever seen in an art gallery equalled those experiences. In architecture, the impact is not pre-ordained or pre-planned. But architects, in general, don’t deal with conceptual ideas. There must be an unbelievably small percentage of architects who are interested in practicing as an art form.
When did you start teaching?
Twenty-five years ago, I’ve nearly always been involved in education. I learn more from young people than they learn from me. They radiate something which gives you a perception of the time you live in. And if you pick up on it, you can remain in touch.
I find it incongruous because you are a person who challenges the established idea of architecture. And yet here you are, the head of the Department . . .
Yes, the Department of Architecture and Interior Design at Parsons. Well, it’s almost inevitable, if you stay around long enough. Then you’re the person they choose for the job. Ten or 15 years ago, the notion of a firm like ours designing a pavilion for one of the most conservative countries would have been inconceivable. SITE’s early ideas are now being understood because we’ve been saying, from the beginning, that architecture is about information. It’s nothing new. A Gothic church told the story of a religion, of a social context. When modern buildings came along clients decided that technology or service was the information they were trying to convey. Now our clients are interested in projecting an image of how they perceive themselves.