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Wang Shu on Moving Chinese Architecture Forward

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

By Margot Brody 

Chinese architect Wang Shu, the 2012 recipient of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, greeted a packed auditorium on the evening of March 28 at the Art Institute of Chicago for a lecture that focused on the cultural influences and modern-day issues that have shaped his approach to design in the rapidly developing socio-economic landscape of China.

Shu began by discussing what he believes to be the misguided direction of much of China’s contemporary architecture. Disturbed by the widespread demolition of traditional Chinese homes in favor of pre-determined and distinctively Western architectural vernacular in Chinese cities, Shu made the case for a culturally sensitive design philosophy that incorporates the country’s unique historical identity into a contemporary framework.

“We do not need to demolish our history to be modern,” said Shu. “These two things can coexist.”

Shu and his wife, Lu Wenyu, founded Amateur Architecture Studio in 1997 in Hangzhou, China, and have since completed several notable projects including the Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum, Ningbo History Museum, and the plan for the Xiangshan Campus of the China Academy. “Professional architects destroy so many things in China, so we named our studio Amateur,” he said.

Shu acknowledged that the question of pinpointing a distinctively Chinese architectural language for the present time is complex. For him, the answer lies in using repurposed local materials, which he believes transforms historical experience into new forms. Shu also draws from traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy in order to translate their high level of simplistic artistry and into his deeply contextualized architectural projects.

“My work is not just about space: It’s also about memory and accumulated layers of time,” he said. “It is here that we can find an image for China’s future.”

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