Motioning at a trio of nearly lifesize sculptures of men with their arms thrust forward, Vincent James talks about “collaborating with the artwork” in his design of a large penthouse apartment populated by an impressive collection of contemporary Asian art. Works by artists such as Yue Minjun (who sculpted the three men), Zhu Wei, and Anish Kapoor animate the apartment's fluid spaces. The actual clients for the project, though, didn't want it to feel like a museum. So James, whose practice, VJAA, was named Firm of the Year by the AIA in 2012, used materials, daylight, and elegant screens to blur spatial boundaries and soften the notion that this might be a place more for culture than living.
The clients were attracted to James by his frequent use of natural materials, especially wood. Thorough in their research, they interviewed a number of talented, but low-profile, architects for the job. They asked all to list five other architects they might hire to do their own house. The only name to appear on everyone's list was Vincent James.