James Carpenter studied architecture and sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 1972. He actively exhibited light-based art works, while working from 1972 through 1982 as a consultant at Corning Glass Works, developing new glass materials. These research projects were aimed at potential architectural applications. Since establishing James Carpenter Design Associates in 1978, Carpenter has been integrating a synthesis of light into building structures. The studio is a collaborative environment, encouraging an exchange of ideas between architects, material and structural engineers, environmental engineers, and fabricators.
Carpenter is the recipient of numerous awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Architecture Award, the American Institute of Architects Honor Award, and a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.