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This year, Wang Shu became the first Chinese to be honored with the Pritzker Prize, the ‘Nobel Prize’ of architecture

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The Wonder That Is Wang

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BY CARREN JAO

ASK ANY WORKING architect looking to survive the global economic meltdown and they will mostly likely be looking for work in China or the Middle East. Over the years, China has transformed its rural landscape into a megalopolis filled with bold architectural statements—from the Guangzhou Opera House to Beijing’s Bird’s Nest.

Five Scattered Houses Situated in a park that lies between Ningbo’s newly built central business district and cultural center (which houses the Wang’s own History Museum), Five Scattered Houses comprises five small-scale buildings of clay tiles. The work showcases elements of traditional Chinese architecture: eaves and lattice screens, set against the backdrop of nature, and mixed with steel and glass. Its form undulates in graceful rhythms, proof that the traditional marks of Chinese architecture can be reworked to produce a fresh contemporary feeling. www.ChinaBusinessPhilippines.com 25


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FIVE SCATTERED HOUSES EXTERIOR (LU WENYU / AMATEUR ARCHITECTURE STUDIO)

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CAA Wang’s design for the China Academy of Art centers around traditional Chinese courtyard-based architecture, which can be used to accommodate nearly all functions. Rather than being rigid and stoic, Wang updated the courtyard design with external stairs that swoop up, peppered with irregular windows above, creating a dynamic facade. As a nod to the past, Wang salvaged over two million pieces of tiles of different ages and sizes from traditional houses demolished in the province of Zhejiang.

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Decay Dome In 2010, the Amateur Architecture Studio created the Decay of a Dome exhibit for the Venice Biennial. The dome was finished by three people in just three days. Its core idea was to personalize architecture by using everyday wood material to build a small structure that can be easily constructed and dismantled, even by untrained designers. “It’s about people working together to construct something,” Wang says. “Today, architecture is too professional and there is too much digital design. I think architecture should go back to its origins.”


the last decade. It proves that earnest hard work and persistence lead to positive outcomes.” The Pritzker Architecture Prize was founded in 1979 to honor the work of a living architect whose work contributes to the art of architecture. The laureates receive a US$100,000 grant and a bronze medallion. Previous prizewinners have included America’s Thom Mayne in 2005 (San Francisco Federal Building), the UK’s Zaha Hadid in 2004 (Bridge Pavilion), and Italy’s Renzo Piano in 1998 (Kansai International Airport). Lord Palumbo, Pritzker jury chairperson, explains the decision to

bestow on Wang the coveted prize: “The question of the proper relation of present to past is particularly timely, for the recent process of urbanization in China invites debate as to whether architecture should be anchored in tradition or should look only toward the future. As with any great architecture, Wang Shu’s work is able to transcend that debate, producing an architecture that is timeless, deeply rooted in its context and yet universal.” The win also signals an important political statement coming from the Pritzker jury. According to Martha Thorne, Pritzker executive director, “Good architecture occurs in many

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CHINA ACADEMY OF ART EXTERIOR, INTERIOR (LU WENYU / AMATEUR ARCHITECTURE STUDIO) / DECAY OF THE DOME (LU WENYU / AMATEUR ARCHITECTURE STUDIO)

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These modern architectural wonders are spearheaded, not by Chinese nationals, but ‘starchitects’ like Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, or Norman Foster. But the Chinese architectural scene may soon change with the announcement that architect Wang Shu, 48, was chosen to receive the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the first Chinese national to do so. The awards ceremony will take place on May 25 in Beijing, a location that was chosen long before the winner was decided. “This is really a big surprise,” says Wang in a statement. “I suddenly realized that I’ve done many things over


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be a good architect if you don’t have a good life,” says Wang. Throughout his career, Wang has followed a non-traditional career path. He even eschewed architectural work for some years in favor of learning construction under the tutelage of craftsmen. “In 1990, I went off the market, I went out of the system,” recalls Wang. “I wanted to find my way of designing in China.” Because, after all, Wang points out, “Craftsmen don’t have any drawings,

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WENZHENG COLLEGE LIBRARY (LU WENYU / AMATEUR ARCHITECTURE STUDIO) / NINGBO HISTORY MUSEUM (LV HENGZHONG / AMATEUR ARCHITECTURE STUDIO)

places and even in those not always extensively published or publicized.” Thorne adds, “I also hope that his selection reinforces the fact that the Pritzker jury is very serious about looking far and wide to find the best candidates for the award.” Wang was born in Urumqi, in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. At 48, he is a relatively young prizewinner compared to I.M. Pei, a China-born naturalized US citizen, who received the prize while in his 60s. He established Amateur Architecture Studio with his wife, Lu Wenyu, in 1997. The studio’s name comes from the meanings of the word “amateur,” explains Neil Denari, vice chairperson of the University of California, Los Angeles Architecture and Urban Design program. “An amateur is someone who engages in activity for pleasure, rather than financial reasons,” Denari says. That is why Wang maintains a small office of not more than 10 people to keep this philosophy alive. True to his unorthodox practice, he is also seriously considering taking time off to spend time with his 10-year-old son. “Architecture is not more important to me than life. I don’t believe you can

The Ningbo History Museum The Ningbo History Museum in the Yinzhou district of Ningbo stands like a skewed box bursting forth with its contents. Like artful collage, the walls proudly display an artisan craftsmanship, with heavily textured surfaces formed by the combination of board-formed concrete, stone masonry, and clay tiles mixed into patches. Windows play throughout the exterior with no formal logic. Inside, the space becomes more refined with gray wood decking on which the concrete wall seems to float. The interior courtyard cuts through the three floors and reaches up to the roof terrace, elegantly rising up to the heavens in contrast to the brutalist building materials of the exterior.

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Wenzheng College The Wenzheng College library is sandwiched by a mountain full of bamboo in the north and a lake in the south. Following the garden style of Suzhou, where buildings between mountains and water should not be prominent, Wang buried nearly half the library underground. Only two stories of the three-story building can be seen from the entrance. Its main body floats over water, facing south, the dominant direction of winds in the summer. Four separate pavilions of varying scale were inserted into the complex, echoing Chinese garden principles. The building’s scale strikes a true balance between man and the enormity of nature that surrounds him.

traditions more than Western templates. Wang’s major projects have all been in China and often fuse modernist forms with salvaged materials that reference Chinese culture. In the Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum, Wang reconstructed a former port building using recycled brick from the area. He used seven million recycled bricks for his work at the Xiangshan campus of the China Academy of Art, which comprises 22 buildings in a design that covers 15,000 square meters. In Hangzhou’s China Academy of Art, Wang used two million tiles collected from traditional houses for the roof. In a library at Suzhou University’s Wenzhang Campus, he opted for a cluster of low cubes instead of high buildings that would pierce the sky and the block the energy from nearby mountains and waters; his way of adhering to feng shui. Wang’s work often revolves around the theme of historic preservation, but he layers it with an investigation of a new Chinese architectural form. Given China’s breakneck speed of development, Wang’s message of urbanization with an eye toward culture and history becomes even more important, making his winning the Pritzker very timely indeed.

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LIN AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN (SHEN HONG / XINHUA) / LIN WARMING UP (SONG QIONG / XINHUA)

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any designs. They do it from memory.” During that time, he studied with Chinese craftsmen, learning about material and how it affects design. He now teaches the same build-it-yourself method to a select group of student architects in his small studio. Unlike previous prizewinners who have built international reputations, Wang has steadfastly stayed close to home. Inspiration for his buildings has often come from Chinese architectural

China Business Philippines- Mar 2012 Wang Shu  

Profile of Pritzker Prize winning architect Wang Shu

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