Wang Shu’s Spontaneous Architecture
BY Scott Rothstein | March 29, 2012
Recipient of the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize
In late February, Wang Shu of the People’s Republic of China was awarded the prestigious 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Wang is an architect deeply influenced by the essence of traditional Chinese buildings. The elegant forms he designs pay respect to older structures seen throughout China. Graceful rooflines and humble materials define his aesthetic, a point of view that is both personal and informed by heritage.
The Pritzker Architecture Prize, which was founded in 1979 by the late Jay A. Pritzker and his wife Cindy, honors year each a living architect whose work demonstrates a combination of talent, vision and commitment and that produces consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment via the art of architecture. The prize is $100,000 and a bronze medallion.
In selecting this year’s laureate, Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize said, “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. 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 earned both his undergraduate degrees in architecture at the Nanjing Institute of Technology, Department of Architecture. When he first graduated from school, he worked for the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou researching the environment and architecture in relation to the renovation of old buildings. Nearly a year later, he was at work on his first architectural project—the design of a 3600 square meter Youth Center for the small town of Haining (near Hangzhou), which was completed in 1990.
For the next ten years, he worked with craftsmen to gain experience at actual building and without the responsibility of design. In 1997, Wang Shu and his wife, Lu Wenyu, founded their professional practice in Hangzhou, naming it “Amateur Architecture Studio.” He explains the name, “For myself, being an artisan or a craftsman, is an amateur or almost the same thing.”
In 2000, he had completed his first major project, the Library of Wenzheng College at Suzhou University. In keeping with his philosophy of paying attention to the environment, and with the traditions of Suzhou gardening, which suggests that buildings located between water and mountains should not be prominent, he designed the library with nearly half of the building underground. Also, four additional buildings are much smaller than the main body.
Speaking about his career, Wang states, “To me architecture is spontaneous for the simple reason that architecture is a matter of everyday life. When I say that I build a ‘house’ instead of a ‘building’, I am thinking of something that is closer to life, everyday life. When I named my studio ‘Amateur Architecture’, it was to emphasize the spontaneous and experimental aspects of my work, as opposed to being ‘official and monumental’."
It is Wang’s fine tuned sensitivity to scale and materials that elevates his projects. He is a great refiner and his work is grounded by a humanistic orientation to design. Each project acknowledges a respect for tradition, craft, and an appreciation for the hand of the artisan.
A shorter version of this article first appeared on Scott Rothstein’s blog, http://artfoundout.blogspot.com/ For more information on Wang Shu and Pritzker Prize, please visit http://www.pritzkerprize.com.