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COLLECTION Identifier: DES-2017-0002-15420111620

James Carpenter Collection

Scope and Contents

The James Carpenter Collection consists of material spanning over forty years of practice with projects ranging from art to architecture. It is primarily comprised of drawings for various projects and installations, models, art films and material samples. [Samples will be readily available in the Material Collections at the Frances Loeb Library]. These items document his dedication to research and innovation in using glass as building material. The collection also includes notes and correspondence for the publication of his monograph and conference papers.


  • 1974-2014

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Series B is restricted for a diversity of reasons, including re-formatting needs.


91 linear feet (85 tubes, 6 boxes (collection))
159 cubic feet (33 models (collection))


Born in 1949 in Washington D.C., James Carpenter initially started studying architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). He soon shifted his focus to exploring the potential of glass as an element capable of more than just bringing light into architecture by closely examining its material and structural qualities. He graduated from RISD in 1972 with a degree in Fine Arts and began his career as a consultant at the Corning Glass Works. In 1979, he established James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA) in New York as a design practice exploring glass as their primary material.

The true spirit of JCDA lies in research and collaboration. Carpenter has been pioneering research to develop distinctive capabilities of glass in order to manipulate its response to light, and through environmental control. His use of dichroic laminated glass fins on the Millennium Tower, New York (1994) is a fitting example. His collaborators include experts in allied fields of architecture, engineering, art and construction. Since its establishment, JCDA has collaborated with architects and firms across the globe: Edward Larrabee Barnes, Richard Meier and Partners, Behnisch Architekten, Renzo Piano Workshop, Kohn Pedersen Fox, Skidmore Owings and Merrill, Handel and Associates, Cambridge Seven, Murphy Jahn, Grimshaw and Partners, Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, Hargreaves Associates, Foster and Partners, Toshiko Mori Architect; engineers Ove Arup and Partners, and artist Jenny Holzer among many others.

An artist and designer, Carpenter’s work investigates the properties of light and the use of glass in a manner where aesthetics and technology are intrinsically and consistently united. The diversity of James Carpenter’s works ranges in scale and type from the design of a single Retractable Screen for a private house in Dallas (1993) to devising the master plan for Israel Museum in Jerusalem (2005-2010). His exquisite design with light and use of glass in architecture is uniquely celebrated in his many projects: they reflect in their materiality in their conceptual names: Structural Glass Prisms (1985); Arch Truss Wall (1988); Glass Column Wall (1990); Dichroic Light Field (1994); Periscope Window (1995); Lens Ceiling (1996); Suspended Glass Tower (1997); Tension Dome (1997); Light Mast (1998); Glass Tube Field (1998); Luminous Threshold (1998); Periscopic Viewing Room (2001); Luminous Blue Glass Bridge (2001); Cloud Portal (2002); Podium Light Wall (2003); Solar Reflector Shell (2004), to name a few. His most landmark projects are the cable-net wall at the Time Warner Building (1999) and the curtain wall at 7 World Trade Center (2002). The cable-net wall conceived by JCDA is also the largest ever built.

Of particular interest in addition to his built works, are James Carpenter’s art films and installations. With grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, his early exhibitions and installations often incorporated moving images in a super-eight film loop: Cause (1975), Confines (1975), Tracks (1977), Migration (1978) and Homing (1978) are some of them. Shot between 1975 and 1980, these short films record movements and reactions of different animals and birds in varied settings at a particular moment in time. Through the recording and projection of these films, Carpenter explores the relationship between the object, subject and event within a space. His later installations include Luminous Threshold (2000) for the Summer Olympic Games in Sydney and Water Light Passage (2003) for the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Carpenter’s work has been covered in numerous art and architecture journals, exhibition catalogs, and in the following published monographs: Sandro Marpillero, James Carpenter: Environmental Refractions (Basel, Berlin, Boston: Birkhäuser, 2006) and Sarah Whiting, Beyond Surface Appeal: Literalism, Sensibilities, and Constituencies in the Work of James Carpenter (Cambridge: Harvard GSD, 2012). He is the recipient of an Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. He was also a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1990.


The James Carpenter Collection is arranged in three main series: Series A – Projects, Series B – Films and Series C – Written Materials. Series C is divided into four subseries: Publication Requests, Lectures and Conferences, Monographs, and Address Books.


Gift of James Carpenter, 2017.

Processed by

Vaissnavi Shukl

James Carpenter Collection
A Descriptive Inventory of the Holdings at the Frances Loeb Library
Special Collections, Frances Loeb Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Design
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Frances Loeb Library Repository

The archival collections at GSD consist of primary source materials that further academic research in the design fields both within the GSD and beyond Harvard University. These materials, individually and collectively, offer engaging documentation of design history, theory, and practice. For further information, please visit:

Gund HallGund Hall, Room L12
48 Quincy St.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-9164