AAJ Press
Architecture & Design, Urban Design

The Pritzker Architecture Prize 2012: Wang Shu (Amateur Architecture Studio) China

The Pritzker Architecture Prize 2012 has been awarded to the Chinese architect Wang Shu. Born in 1963 in Urumqi, West China, he studied at the Nanjing Institute of Technology before co-founding the Amateur Architecture Studio in Hangzhou with his partner, Lu Wenyu, in 1997. Wang Shu is Head of Architecture at the China Academy of Art. In the context of contemporary Chinese architecture where multi-towered cities are erected in a short time, his buildings refer to the historical ‘ancestral’ spirit of architecture of China. Wang Shu’s architecture is devoted to tradition, history, a sense of place, sustainable use of materials, and the people who will inhabit it. His work links tradition and modernity, using sustainable and new materials of wood and concrete, incorporating recovered materials, and traditional building methods such as the principles of natural ventilation.

Wang Shu – Amateur Architecture – Design Philosophy “I design a house instead of a building. The house is the amateur architecture approach to the infinitely spontaneous order. Built spontaneously, illegally and temporarily, amateur architecture is equal to professional architecture. But amateur architecture is just not significant. One problem of professional architecture is, that it thinks too much of a building. A house, which is close to our simple and trivial life, is more fundamental than architecture. Before becoming an architect, I was only a literati. Architecture is part time work to me. For one place, humanity is more important than architecture while simple handicraft is more important than technology. The attitude of amateur architecture, – though first of all being an attitude towards a critical experimental building process -, can have more entire and fundamental meaning than professional architecture. For me, any building activity without comprehensive thoughtfulness will be insignificant.” Wang Shu / Lu Wenyu

The Tiled Garden for the10th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2006 was constructed of salvaged and recycled 66,000 tiles from demolition sites. The contribution to the Chinese Pavilion was a critique of the rapid urbanization of China, and the role of architects in over-zealous demolitions and unecological and non-sustainable building programmes.

The Ceramic House (Coffee House), 2003-2006, in The Jinhua Architecture Park, brought together 16 international architects to create a pavilion-city along the banks of the river Yiwu, in a project curated by Ai Wei Wei.

Wang Shu knows how to embrace the challenges of construction and employ them to his advantage. His approach to building is both critical and experimental. Using recycled materials, he is able to send several messages on the careful use of resources and respect for tradition and context as well as give a frank appraisal of technology and the quality of construction today, particularly in China. Jury of the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize

Wang’s style and aesthetic is illustrated in his signature project for the Ningbo History Museum, 2008 on the east coast of China. Dedicated to the history of humanities and the arts the building incorporates more than 1 million found bricks, tiles and pieces of rubble to honour and preserve traditional construction methods.

The History Museum at Ningbo is one of those unique buildings that while striking in photos, is even more moving when experienced. The museum is an urban icon, a well-tuned repository for history and a setting where the visitor comes first. The richness of the spatial experience, both in the exterior and interior is remarkable. This building embodies strength, pragmatism and emotion all in one. Jury of the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize

In 2004-2007, the architect covered the China Academy of Art’s campus’ roofs in Xungshan with over 2-million traditional tiles from demolished houses. Combined with concrete, the recycled tiles formed an effective heating insulator for the roofing system.

In spite of his age, young for an architect, he has shown his ability to work successfully at various scales. The Xiangshan Campus of China Academy of Arts in Hangzhou is like a small town, providing a setting for learning and living for students, professors and staff. The exterior and interior connections between buildings and private and public spaces provide a rich environment where an emphasis on livability prevails. Jury of the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize

Wang Shu was invited by the mayor of Hangzhou to coordinate the restoration of the remains of the city’s ancient imperial road. The project also  incorporate contemporary architecture through a collective project with architects Zhang Bin, Qian Qiang, Li Kaisheng, Li Ziangning, Tong Ming and Zhang Lei. Wang Shu designed the museum of the Southern Song Dynasty imperial road to memmorialise the emperor’s road and each architect created a building along the road. Hangzhou was one of the seven ancient capitals of China. Amateur Architecture Studio’s building at 112 Central Zhongshan Road uses traditional Chinese construction techniques with a large timber cantilever structure cantilever covered in terracotta roof tiles with an interior divided into exhibition rooms and tea rooms.  

The Pritzker Prize was established “to honour a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture”. is Supported by by the American Hyatt Foundation, it includes an award of $100.000 and a bronze medallion, and  Previous Pritzker laureates include Norman Foster, Renzo Piano, and Rem Koolhaas.

Images:  Ningbo History Museum, 2003-2008, Ningbo, China 
Photo by Lv Hengzhong.

Tiled Garden, 2010, 10th Venice Biennale of Architecture, Venice, Italy. Photo by Lu Wenyu.

Ceramic House, 2003-2006, Jinhua, China 
Photo by Lv Hengzhong.

Ningbo History Museum, 2003-2008, Ningbo, China 
Photo by Lv Hengzhong.

Images courtesy ©2012 The Hyatt Foundation.

Further information on the Pritzker Prize : http://www.pritzkerprize.com/

About zenaide85

Zenaïde d’Albufera has a master’s degree in international law (Université Paris X, Nanterre, France and Universidad del Salvador, Buenos Aires, Argentina) and a master's degree in cultural communication. She worked for Christie’s in Paris and the Simon Lee Gallery, Mayfair as PR manager and is currently Media Director at Art and Architecture Journal Press.


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