Apocalypse & Utopia
James Wines (SITE) & Alison Sky (SITE)


James Wines & Alison Sky 1985

©Monica Pidgeon

JW: SITE is an interdisciplinary architecture and design organisation founded in 1970, basically for the purpose of exploring new ideas for the visual environment. And it was founded by myself, James Wines, and Alison Sky and we were later joined by Michelle Stone and John de Vitry and Joshua Weinstein all presently within the firm. Our firm is composed of approximately twenty people, artists, architects and designers, and the range of our work is, again, totally interdisciplinary, everything from teacups to commercial buildings, to houses, to public spaces. AS: We grew our work, and our attitudes grew out of the interdisciplinary arts, activities of the 60's than I guess of a formal, architectural attitude. We've always been a collaboration of artists, architects, sociologists, psychologists, so our work is very informationally-oriented and very site oriented. JW: I think that the aspect of our work that is clearly and completely different I think probably from most architectural firms is that we deal with psychology, ambiance, sociological situation much more than we do with formal information. I think most architects when they go about designing a building; usually start with a formal order or stylistic persuasion as a premise. They take a functional problem and apply to it design principles. Our method is really quite different. We start really with information, as Alison has said. It's really like the program, for example, would then in fact be followed through and resolved. Within that, information would be recycled' through, in a sense, an art-making process, which is quite different from a design process. Architecture is really our subject matter and not our objective. Meaning that once you've solved all the problems, particularly in a building, you, by recycling that information and letting it be invaded by all kinds of outside ideas, you change the context of the building totally.


Best Products: Houston Building


JW: I think it's mostly simply demonstrated by some of the first projects we did, and these were for a large commercial merchandising company called Best Products. And the problem was essentially finding an iconography for the American commercial strip. These were very banal ordinary structures sitting on highways in America. And rather than design them, which seemed to be absurd because there is nothing you could do to improve upon them in terms of design, they are what they are, we decided to use them as kind of typologies or archetypes. They exist in people's minds almost rhetorically, without even thinking about them. Big boxes sitting with big logos on the front mean to the American people, particularly 'commercial centre'. So we acted upon these buildings almost as though they were found objects - I guess you use Duchamp's phrase 'assisted ready-mades'. And I would say it was the aspect of our work probably that was least understood by the traditional architects because they couldn't understand why we didn't redesign the buildings. All we did was invade the buildings. But we found that that had considerable impact because you were dealing then with ideas, ideas about architecture rather than making architecture itself. So I think the significant aspect for us, probably the Houston building which was the first in the series of buildings, really themes and variations I think it would be, a theme and variations, was to take the big box of the American shopping centre and then let these ideas from without, each one dealt with something different. In the case of the Houston building it dealt with building and unbuilding. In other words, the dialogue came from within the process itself. In the case of the rest of the series, there were buildings dealing with ecology, invasion of Nature, there was dealing with equilibrium, there was some dealing with movement, buildings that actually move; all of them had thematic references. I think it might be interesting to talk about the beginning and the end, because there was an entire series of eight buildings for Best Products.

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