Wang Shu wins the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize

The Chinese architect, for whom "a lost tradition means a lost future," combines traditional materials with advanced building techniques in his practice, where past and present converge.

 

News / Danielle Rago

Wang Shu, 49, of The People's Republic of China, was announced on Monday the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate. Wang is the 37th recipient of the famed architectural award, often deemed architecture's equivalent to the Nobel Prize, and the first recipient from China. "The fact that an architect from China has been selected by the jury represents a significant step in acknowledging the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals," said Thomas J. Pritzker, Chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, in a statement. "In addition, over the coming decades China's success at urbanization will be important to China and to the world. This urbanization, like urbanization around the world, needs to be in harmony with local needs and culture. China's unprecedented opportunities for urban planning and design will want to be in harmony with both its long and unique traditions of the past and with its future needs for sustainable development." Wang's practice very much runs along these lines – that is, on the verge of the past and the present.

Wang lives and practices in Hangzhou, China, where he established Amateur Architecture Studio with his wife Lu Wenyu in 1997. While engaged in contemporary practices and design, Wang's body of work remains closely tied to history through the usage of tradition materials and motifs. This constant flux between traditional and contemporary, past and present is one of the many reasons Wang was selected as this year's winner. According to Pritzker Prize Chairman Lord Palumbo, "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."

Top: Ningbo History Museum, 2003-2008, Ningbo, China. Photo by Lv Hengzhong. Courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio. Above: Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase II, 2004-2007, Hangzhou, China. Photo by Lv Hengzhong. Courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio

Some of Wang's most notable projects deal with this place of confluence. It is this place where design, architecture, and landscape intersect that is of most interest and importance to him. Wang's work asks the question whether or not it is possible to revert back to traditional ways of life in a place, like China, that is faced with continual renewal. As Wang stated at a lecture at UCLA on Monday evening, "a lost tradition means a lost future." This mentality is further depicted throughout the body of work produced by Wang and Amateur Architecture Studio. In doing so, Wang works and conducts research using traditional materials such as bamboo and wood with new building technology to re-establish contemporary architectural practice in China.

Ceramic House, 2003-2006, Jinhua, China. Photo by Lv Hengzhong. Courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio

Notable examples of these processes in Wang's body of work include the Library of Wenzheng College at Suzhou University (1999-2000), where Wang carefully worked with the existing landscape as well as respecting the traditional methods of Suzhou gardening—which suggests buildings located between water and mountains should not be prominent—by designing the library with half of the building underground. At the Xiangshan Campus of the China Academy of Art (2004-2007), Wang integrated sustainable building practices and technologies with traditional methods of construction and design, using two million leftover tiles from demolished houses to cover the roofs of the campus buildings. Combined with concrete, the recycled tiles formed an effective heating insulator for the roofing system.

 
Wang's work asks the question whether or not it is possible to revert back to traditional ways of life in a place, like China, that is faced with continual renewal. For him "a lost tradition means a lost future"
 

Wang Shu at the Venice Biennale 2010

Other noteworthy projects in China include: the Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum (2001-2005); five scattered houses in Ningbo (2003-2006); the Ceramic House (2003-2006) in Jinhau; the Vertical Courtyard Apartments (2007) in Hangzhou; the Ningbo History Museum (2008); and the Exhibition Hall of the Imperial Street of Southern Song Dynasty (2009).

Vertical Courtyard Apartments, 2002-2007, Hangzhou, China. Photo by Lu Wenyu. Courtesy Amateur Architecture Studio

Wang was selected from an international jury, chaired by Lord Palumbo and composed by Alejandro Aravena, Stephen Breyer, Yung Ho Chang, Zaha Hadid, Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, Karen Stein and Martha Thorne. The formal Pritzker Prize ceremony and presentation of the award will take place on Friday, May 25 in Beijing. Wang will receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion. Danielle Rago (@danielle_rago)

[ Read all of our stories on Wang Shu, 2012 Pritzker Prize laureate ]

Ceramic House, 2003-2006, Jinhua, China. Photo by Lv Hengzhong. Courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio

Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase II, 2004-2007, Hangzhou, China. Photo by Lv Hengzhong. Courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio

Tea House with earth 1, part of Five Scattered Houses, 2003-2006, Ningbo, Chima. Photo by Lang Shuilong. Courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio

Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase I, 2002-2004, Hangzhou, China. Photo by Lu Wenyu. Courtesy of Amateur Architecture Studio