Within its wide range of output—from books, exhibitions, and films to outdoor activations, cultural installations, and residential architecture—the work of James Sanders Studio has been unified by its exploration of a handful of underlying themes and areas of special interest.
A longtime focus of James Sanders’ work has been the interplay of real and fictive places, beginning with Celluloid Skyline, his book-length study on the “mythic city” of movie New York, which gave rise to a major exhibition, an award-winning website, and a second publication, Scenes From the City, and inspired his theatrical environment for En Garde Arts’ Crowbar, transforming the historic Victory Theater into a dreamy, magical setting, mixing past and present.
Since his seminal effort to revive Bryant Park in the early 1980s, deploying a coordinated series of outdoor activations to bring life to the then-troubled open space, James Sanders and his studio have developed design and programmatic interventions with transformative impact on the urban fabric. These include similar open-air installations, but have expanded in time to encompass district-wide projects that combine indoor and outdoor activations across a multi-block area.
Several of the studio’s projects have designed or developed urbane, multi-purpose hubs combining in a single street-level space a broad, complementary range of cultural, academic, and social activities. Employing elements that flexibly convert areas from one use to another across the course of the day, and outfitted with audio-visual equipment to support a wide array of events and programs, these spaces bring something of the complex, manifold energy of the city itself into interior spaces.
Many of James Sanders’ projects have presented the urbanism and history of global cities—above all that of New York and Los Angeles—for a broad public through both traditional and innovative means: from books, exhibitions and websites, to original research projects and urban design studies, to multimedia installations and a national PBS documentary television series. These projects have brought his research, analysis, and narratives to audiences numbering in the tens of millions, across the United States and around the world.
In their design, the studio’s New York-based architecture and interiors projects have been informed by James Sanders’ extensive research of the city’s residential and commercial heritage. The studio has interpreted several essential New York building types, including the 19th century rowhouse, the lower Manhattan loft, the mid-century modern apartment, and the cast-iron structures of SoHo. Though designed for the needs of 21st century clients and entirely contemporary in stylistic vocabulary, these projects seek to tap deep wells of tradition and continuity with the past as well as something of the richly satisfying character of older environments.