Key Projects by Wang Shu

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Key Projects by Wang Shu

Here’s a selection of projects by Chinese architect Wang Shu of Amateur Architecture Studio, who has been named 2012 Pritzker Prize Laureate (see our earlier story).

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Top and above: Ceramic House, 2003-2006, Jinhua, China

The award will be presented at a ceremony in Beijing on 25 May.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Ceramic House, 2003-2006, Jinhua, China

Read more about the Pritzker Prize on Dezeen here.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Ningbo History Museum, 2003-2008, Ningbo, China

Photography is by Lv Hengzhong, apart from where otherwise stated.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Ningbo History Museum, 2003-2008, Ningbo, China

The biography below and image captions are from the prize organisers:


Wang Shu, who makes his home and works in Hangzhou, was born on November 4, 1963 in Urumqi, a city in the western most province of The People’s Republic of China, Xinjiang. His father is a musician as well as an amateur carpenter. His mother, whose home is Beijing, is a teacher for young children as well as the school librarian. His sister has followed in their mother’s footsteps and become a teacher.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Ningbo History Museum, 2003-2008, Ningbo, China

His parents’ pursuits sparked an interest in Wang Shu for materials, crafts and literature. When he was a teenager, he had to travel between Urumqi and Beijing by train, a distance of 4000 km, four days and four nights train ride. These travels afforded him the opportunity to grow up with a broad and changeable nature. Without any teacher of art, he began to draw and paint on his own. Those early interests at first seemed to be leading him toward a career as an artist or writer.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Ningbo History Museum, 2003-2008, Ningbo, China

Many of his drawings were left on the walls of the narrow street adjacent to the courtyard of the home where he once lived in Beijing. Even many years after he moved away, his neighbors protected the drawings on the walls, waiting for his return. However, Wang Shu chose to live and work in Hangzhou. It was because of the city’s famous natural landscapes, and for its long tradition of water and hill landscape painters.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Ningbo Tengtou Pavilion Shanghai Expo, Shanghai, China, 2010
Photograph is by Fu Xing

His parents pointed out that it would be extremely difficult to earn a living in either of those fields and pushed to have him study science and engineering.

He compromised in that he would study in an arts related scientific-engineering field, i.e. architecture. He freely admits that when his teachers learned of his plans, he says, “They thought I must be crazy, but so few ordinary Chinese people really know anything about the study of architecture.” After several months of study in the field, Wang Shu knew that this was the profession he wanted to learn.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Ningbo Tengtou Pavilion Shanghai Expo, Shanghai, China, 2010
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu

When he first graduated from the Nanjing Institute of Technology, Department of Architecture, he went to work for the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou doing research on the environment and architecture in relation to the renovation of old buildings. Nearly a year later, he was at work on his first architectural commission, the design of a 3600 square meter Youth Center for the small town of Haining (near Hangzhou). It was completed in 1990.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase I, 2002-2004, Hangzhou, China
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu

From 1990 to 1998, he had no commissions, and he preferred not to take a government or academic position. Instead, he went to work with craftsmen to gain experience in actual building. Every day, from eight in the morning until midnight, he worked and ate with the craftsmen, considered by many to be the lowest level of their society, but he learned everything he could about construction practices. The projects he did at that time were all renovation projects of old buildings, and because old buildings were deconstructed during the fast development of cities, these small works of his were also demolished.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase I, 2002-2004, Hangzhou, China
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu 

When he was a student at university in the 1980s, he also began study the art history of not only Chinese Europe, but of India, Africa and America, and gradually expanding his field of study to not only historic art, but also contemporary art, philosophy, literature, anthropology and the movies. During 1990 to 1998, he had the time to continue his researches in these fields to study and think further. In Wang Shu’s words, “I believe in starting with a broad vision and condensing it to fit the local situation.”

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase I, 2002-2004, Hangzhou, China
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu 

It was in 1997 that he and his wife Lu Wenyu, who is also an architect, founded their “Amateur Architecture Studio,” which has grown into a ten-person office, and has become a fairly famous name in China. The name is a partial response to their critique of the architecture profession in China which they view as complicit in the demolition of entire urban areas and excessive building in rural areas. He says, “I can’t do this, we must not demolish history in order to develop.”

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase II, 2004-2007, Hangzhou, China

Rather typical of his thought and work processes is the Ningbo Historic Museum, a commission that he won as a result of an international competition in 2004. He often explains that part of the motivation behind his design is to remind people what life was like in the past in the harbor city of Ningbo. By collecting recycled building materials from the area to be used in the construction of the museum he was seeking to make a building that could be a small city in its own right and bring up memories of the past.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase II, 2004-2007, Hangzhou, China

He explains further his work procedure as three distinct stages. The first is to convince the government and the client. Second, he deals with the design details in relation to construction issues. And third, he describes as, “the hardest of all, because the Chinese often think of a building as just a container whose functions can change at will, I can have no influence on this third stage.”

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase II, 2004-2007, Hangzhou, China

An example of this is what started out as a Contemporary Art Museum in Ningbo, but would end up a little bit different. “When we presented our plan,” Wang Shu explains, “the government said they had money to build, but not to operate the structure. They needed space to rent out to generate funds. I told them, that apart from selling fish, they could do whatever they wanted on the ground floor, but art should be on the first floor.”

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum 2001-2005, Ningbo, China 

He explains his design process as very similar to the traditional Chinese painter. First, he studies the cities, the valleys and the mountains. Then he thinks about these things for about a week, not drawing at all. Then, as was the case with the Ningbo Historic Museum, one night when he could not sleep, the design materialized in his mind. He immediately took pencil to paper and drew everything, including numbers, structure, sizes of spaces, locations of entrances, and other functions. “Then,” he says, “I drank tea.”

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum 2001-2005, Ningbo, China 

The whole process is one of thinking, drawing, and discussing. Step by step, a more defined project evolves, and then assistants from his office participate creating further plans and drawings using the computer. A next step involves a discussion about details and materials.

He described another situation when he had to design three museums in different places at the same time, “My wife, Lu Wenyu, and I are the only partners in the studio. The rest are all our students. I sent them all home for a month so I could work on these three museums. But they were not on vacation. They all had homework assignments: books on French philosophy, or Chinese paintings, movies, or whatever might be helpful. When we all got back together,” he says, “we had discussions before we began work again.” His role of teacher extends beyond his studio. In 2000, he became a professor at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. In 2003, he was named head of the Architecture Department there, and in 2007, he was made the Dean of the Architecture School.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Library of Wenzheng College, 1999-2000, Suzhou University Suzhou, China
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu 

Wang Shu has explained in lectures and interviews with journalists, repeating many times, that “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 experimented aspects of my work, as opposed to being ‘official and monumental’. My work is more thoughtful than simply ‘built’.”

By naming his practice “Amateur Architecture Studio,” Wang explains that the implication should be that the “handicraft aspect” of his work is more important to him that what he considers much of the “professionalized, soulless architecture as practiced today.” At an architecture conference in Beijing in the 1980s, he created controversy when he stated that there was no architecture in China. He defined an architect in China then as simply someone who knew how to draw, and could be drawing all days, but not necessarily thinking about what he was drawing. He feels that the situation today has changed, but there is still too much influence of money and business.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: ceiling of gallery, Five Scattered Houses, Ningbo, China, 2003-2006
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu 

With further elaboration, Wang Shu says, “The Amateur Architecture Studio is a purely personal architecture studio. It should not be even referred to as an architect’s office because design is an amateur activity and life is more important than design. Our work is constantly refreshed by various spontaneous things that occur. And, most important, we encourage independence and individualism to guarantee the experimental work of the studio.”

Wang also speaks of the temporary character of his firm’s work “My belief is that architecture should work hand-in-hand with time. Sometimes I prefer to use less costly materials that can be replaced when damaged. And I associated buildings and plants – when they come together, as long as time keeps going, architecture is subject to constant changes. Temporary as I use the word is not meant to mean disposable.”

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: roof top cafe, Five Scattered Houses, Ningbo, China, 2003-2006
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu 

He has often commented that he sees himself as a scholar, craftsman and architect, in that order. This is reflected in the design process of his work. A project is open to change, adapting constantly in response to the environment and conditions, even conditions that may arise during the building phase of a project. Amateur Architecture Studio’s work is often characterized by spontaneous changes throughout the process of design and construction.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Vertical Courtyard Apartments, 2002-2007, Hangzhou, China
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu

He explains further, “A hundred years ago in China, the people who built houses were artisans; there was no theoretical foundation for architecture. Today, an official architectural system has been established, but I chose handicrafts and the amateur spirit over the system. For myself, being an artisan or an amateur is almost the same thing.” His interpretation of the word is relatively close to one of the unabridged dictionary’s definitions: “a person who engages in a study, sport or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons”. Although in Wang Shu’s interpretation, the word “pleasure” might well be replaced by “love of the work”.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Vertical Courtyard Apartments, 2002-2007, Hangzhou, China
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu

He compares this concept to creating a Chinese Garden, which he says really cannot be designed. “Many unforeseeable things happened here in China all the time so you have to improvise,” explains, “it is better to be able to solve problems at the moment they arise.” He emphasized that the need to be flexible when building is typical in China.

“I design a house instead of a building,” says Wang Shu. “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.” He often expresses that for him, humanity is more important than architecture, while simple handcraft is more important than technology. Thus the name of his office, “Amateur Architecture” and his approach reveals an experimental and critical attitude toward the building process.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Decay of the Dome Exhibit 12th International Architecture Exhibit, Venice, Italy, 2010 - a test in Hangzhou
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu 

As for early Chinese influences, he considers Tong Jun, a Chinese architect whose research into the Jiangna Gardens of Suzhou, the main one. Wang Shu’s passion for calligraphy has prompted at least one journalist to write that sometimes his designs reflect the freedom of brushstrokes and the tension between Chinese calligraphic characters. From the international community, he lists Aldo Rossi, Alvaro Siza (both also Pritzker Laureates), Le Corbusier,Mies van der Rohe,Louis Kahn, Carlo Scarpa, and some of Tadao Ando’s (another Pritzker Laureate) early work.

Key Projects by Wang Shu

Above: Decay of the Dome Exhibit 12th International Architecture Exhibit, Venice, Italy, 2010 - installation in Venice
Photograph is by Lu Wenyu 

Not surprisingly, Wang Shu serves as Dean of the Architecture School in China Academy in Hangzhou as well as having designed some 21 buildings spread over some 130 acres near Xiangshan, and now teaches in the school as well. One of his most important commissions, it was accomplished in two three-year phases.

In 2009, his solo exhibition, “Architecture as a Resistance” was shown at the BOZAR Art Center in Brussels, Belgium. He is a frequent guest lecturer at colleges and universities around the world, and is often invited to speak at international conference and institutions.

  • http://cargocollective.com/arcalign ArcAlign

    Powerful stuff

  • Colonel Pancake

    Eight slides is almost enough to comprehensively document Shu's work.

  • ben dover

    Well, if this gets you a Pritzker Prize what do good projects give you?

  • Tyler Ward

    Obviously awarding this prize to a Chinese architect this year is very political and economical driven. I am just surprised other worthy architect who has practised longer than Wang Shu and made more significant contribution to the field is still not recognized by Pritzker eg. Steven Holl & Peter Cook.

  • Chris

    My feeling is that every building is designed by a different architect, maybe overreacting, but more like a genius forger type of think.

  • Aboo

    Now I'm dying to know what ben dover considers good projects. Because I'm positive they'll be beyond reproach.

  • http://dailygrail.com/ Red Pill Junkie

    "From 1990 to 1998, he had no commissions, and he preferred not to take a government or academic position. Instead, he went to work with craftsmen to gain experience in actual building. Every day, from eight in the morning until midnight, he worked and ate with the craftsmen, considered by many to be the lowest level of their society, but he learned everything he could about construction practices."

    Not many would be willing to go to those lengths in order to learn the ropes. But it's certainly paid off! And I don't mean the award.

  • jasperM

    Love his museum, but seriously Its political. The pritzker ceremony was decided to be held in Beijing before the results. Are the Jury members hoping to get more projects in China? Wang Shu's work is powerful but people like Toyo Ito and Steven Holl have been glanced over.

    • vampire

      " Are the Jury members hoping to get more projects in China? "

      The statement of yours is logically wrong. The prize perhaps makes him getting more commissions in the West.

  • TCFS

    Dear Random Chinese Architect,

    Congratulations! You have been selected by the Pritzker Socitey as this years lucky winner. Out of literally billions of your contrymen you have been uniquely chosen beacause we thought this year a Chinese guy should win it and although noone could really think of any famous Chinese architects one of the jury once thought he saw you at a biennale, or something. That, and you weren't in prison like that other mediocre hack that gets all the attention.
    Anyway, if the authorities let you leave the country you can come collect your prize money.
    Warm regards,
    PP

    • Kyle

      bias and narrow minded bulls**t!

    • logic

      i agree… he didn't deserve to win…

  • Someone Neutral

    Thats nasty comment from TCFS and others. Can somebody look at architecture out of any prejudice or discrimation against other country , race or style? Political or not, his architecture is just as worthy as other previous and future winners.

  • LPM

    Nice facades, nice volumes and compositions. But what about the interior? Are these buildings dull from inside?

    • http://dailygrail.com/ Red Pill Junkie

      After reading the text, I get the impression that the studio has little to no control over how the spaces are used.

  • vampire

    One cannot consider Chinese architecture without talking about politics. Amongst the rotten, harsh, ugly, chaotic, gross, tragic and hopeless urbanization turmoil of China, people living in the concrete jungle of endless city really need something positive and optimistic to give them hope in order to believe that there is beauty. It matters with 13 billion people, therefore everyone should be concerned as I do. If you flip through the book Chinese Dream http://bit.ly/zMPPTh, you will be surprised how Chinese cities are so deprived of beauty, how big the problem is, and how urgent it is to catalyst a change. It is so sad, and China needs a paradigm shift of its own architects, who understand the culture there, experienced the hardships, and come up with something positive.

  • Somnius

    Just because it is held in Beijing and the architect is a less renown Chinese does not make him worse as a candidate. Steven Holl's building is soulless, big and a tad bit overdone. Sure, politics might have been part of the decision, but China does need someone other than Zaha, Rem, Norman to design a building that has more soul and more integrity. Sorry to the other pp winners, your works in beijing leave a lot to be desired. Thom Wayne, Gordon Bunshaft, Richard Mier all won their when the ceremonies were held in the US, and no one ever contested that.

    Wang Shu, you have my vote.
    Your work has a chinese-esque beauty to it that is contemporary and universal which is quite rare.

    p.s. photograph your buildings better.

  • BH

    Here is a lecture Wang Shu had given to the Harvard GSD. Congratulations Wang.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq8sD7aGH2M&fe

  • accesskb

    Pritzker Prize is awarded to an architect who has made great contribution to the profession and culture. To all those who feel Steven Holl or Toyo Ito etc deserves this award more than Wang Shu, I beg to differ. How exactly has Stevel Holl made a significant contribution to this profession? All he has done is win competitions and built bland projects that dozens of ego centric western architects could've done.

  • dan

    The people saying he doesnt deserve the prize are complete morons. I didnt know who Wang Shu was before he was awarded this prize but NOW I can totally see why he won it. He is what every up and coming architect should strive to be although many of the people on here just wont get this comment… go back to worshipping your money/fame driven starchitects… noobs

  • SKS

    Wang Shu exemplifies a fantastic – in a way perfect – model of how architects should be trained or train themselves and work particularly in Asian countries which have a history.

  • micheal

    He truly deserved it. He combined historical and traditional material to contribute immensely to architecture of China. Great job.