Staying strong at the age of 98, imparting his thoughts to a generation that has taken a large leap from his initial days of architecture, Professor Wu Liangyong is a legend who has impacted the dwellings and built forms of the most populated country, China. He is one of the founding members of the architecture department at Tsinghua University.

Growing up in the times of civil tension, ‘reconstruction’ meant more than its literal sense. Understanding the local influence, why some basic built forms continue to exist through centuries despite advancement in building technologies was a point to ponder. He has emphasized this largely through his retake of courtyard houses; patching quilts instead of discarding them is his comparison.

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Celebrating 70 years of contribution to architecture by Ar. Wu Liangyong ©

The Flaw Of Western Reflection

Westernization without understanding the complete dimension leads to unresourceful and monotonous planning he says. China’s Central television building, for example, built by Architect Rem Koolhaas, is about bringing their thoughts to the city rather than adapt to the city; how alienating it may make the neighborhood feel. Evolving heritage also means coping with advanced requirements and abiding by the building laws at the same time. It is mesmerizing that someone has been able to connect with the city for more than seventy years. He led the planning team for the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing.

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CCTV building in Beijing ©e-

Beijing Olympics

The national stadium nicknamed by the locals as the ‘bird’s nest’ was a vision to not distinguish between a façade, a roof, and a wall. Encapsulate all under a nest. The design framed the ‘twigs’ as the structural component. Theinert spaces, however, gave a nod to the bamboo courtyards where it was a wholesome sustainable component prevalent in China.

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The Bird’s nest lit in the dark sky ©

Ju’er Hutong New Courtyard House

Chinese Architect Wu Liangyong has worked on dwellings all his life. With many publications under his name on understanding the core of housing in the streets of China, this was an attempt to bring in the style of settlements followed in ancient times of the Zhou Dynasty. There were designated places for prayer, meditation, and family gathering. Creating these spaces enforces the discipline. Spaces are these physical elements that help link the thoughts and minds into the activity. He stressed evaluating why we all couldn’t settle for modular flats, with generic functions. It was believed that Beijing was the place between heaven and earth. This brought in the traditional elements of the three and four-sided courtyards, their vital feature to increase the ventilation and bring in nature to the maximum extent. He talks about the need for urban planners to not underrate the power of the dwellings, because the clay tiles of the roof, flooring has proved to have a lot of positive impact on the upbringing of kids compared to the plastic we surround ourselves in. 

The happiness of the community is brought in through equality in design. One cannot rely on a common urban central space to go and find peace. Our immediate surroundings, the interactions with neighbors amount to it. The public is capable of self-organization; to determine the best for a community. The planners need to understand the mechanism of a community before jumping to a said smart solution. The best solutions are those which are ductile and  adaptable. 

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Ju’er Hutong New Courtyard House ©Donia Zhang

Defining Vernacular Concepts

The “Shan-Shui-City” uses special concepts of merging the mountains and the water resources for a settlement. For houses away from the river banks, creating the same with interior ponds and courtyard gardens was an apt solution. This invoked the spiritual guidance for the sacred nature and its well-being. The concept of zen works on similar vibes too. This seems that sustainability is not an added feature, it dissolves in the fundamental planning.

Lessons To Learn

Architect Wu Liangyong is an inspiration to all of us. He was one of the first Chinese architects to get an architectural education abroad and come back to his hometown and not talk about completely westernizing the space to make it smart and sufficient. He often says that he’ll continue to teach, to help bring out the best in his students till time permits. There are headlines of him giving lectures in large conference halls when supported by a cane. This simply shows the pure passion one has towards helping humanity. To bring out the best in everyone. 

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As youngsters, we often find it difficult to correlate our understanding with our elder mentors. The timeline, context and values. Providing such platforms of coexistence, to learn, relearn and unlearn is important for any architect to make statements in their careers. Getting to know how their lives have shaped their thoughts, the importance of childhood memories, the desire to work for the betterment – leaves us with an end note of hope.


Harshitha K S is an avid reader, writer and student who believes that the simple habitual observations often spark exceptional ideas. She finds describing spaces through words to an unfamiliar to be engagingly vivid. With sustainability being the matchless shot forward, she hopes to make a worthwhile contribution.