Wang Shu is an architect of Chinese origin. He is based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. He was born on the 4th of November 1963, in Urumqi, in China‘s far west. As a child, Wang Shu began to draw and paint without any formal training. He also read very widely from the library his mother gave him access to.
Per his parents’ recommendation as a compromise between engineering and his passion for art, Wang Shu chose to study architecture at the Nanjing Institute of Technology in the Jiangsu Province. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1985 and a master’s degree in 1988.
He moved to Hangzhou city after graduation for the natural landscape and ancient tradition of art the city offered. He worked for the China Academy of Art, then known as the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, and completed his first architectural project in 1990: a youth centre of Haining.
Career and Education
Wang chose to study further at the School of Architecture of Tongji University in Shanghai, and hence did not commission any project between 1990 and 1998. During this time, his wife, also an architect, supported the family. He earned his Ph.D. in 2000.
In 1997, Wang and his wife founded the Amateur Architecture Studio. The name was chosen as a rebuke to the professional, soulless architecture practised in China, responsible for the demolition of many old urban neighbourhoods. Soon after his Ph.D., Wang joined the China Academy of Art in 2000 as a professor, wherein in 2003, he became the Head of Architecture Department and then was named Dean of the School of Architecture in 2007.
Works and Projects
The Library of Wenzheng College at Soochow University, designed by Wang in 2000, won the inaugural Architecture Art Awad of China in 2004. Some of his other notable works include the Five Scattered House in Ningbo, which is a series of five different structures that reinterpret the traditional culture of building, commissioned in 2004; Vertical Courtyard Apartments in Hangzhou 2008 where every resident has a chance to enjoy the courtyard in a nearly one hundred meter high apartment complex. Both of his works were nominated and have won many awards.
All five of Wnag’s major works are based in China.
He completed the Ningbo Museum in 2008 after winning an international competition. The concept for the design is a combination of oceans and mountains, because of the great importance of the East China Sea in the city’s history.
He used materials like bricks from buildings that were demolished to facilitate new developments and traditional materials like tiles and bamboo. The materials are not only a part of the traditional construction palette of China but were also sourced locally. The museums’ design is modern yet, the decoration and elements of design are of a traditional origin.
He has exhibited and participated in various major international exhibitions. Few known names include the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale; the solo exhibition in 2009 “Architecture as a Resistance” at BOZAT Center for Fine Arts in Brussels; and the 1999 Chinese Young Architects’ Experimental Work Exhibition in Beijing.
Design Approach and Philosophy
Wang Shu’s designs always attempt to make use of traditional building materials and older techniques in modern buildings. It is visible in many of his works. For example: The Ningbo Museum uses bricks salvaged from demolished buildings and old tiles.
His freshman architecture students are required to work hands-on for a year because he believes:
“Only people who understand the nature of materials can make art using the materials.”
He is a keen supporter of architectural heritage, in a time where globalisation has stripped the cities of their special attributes. Wang Shu has often said in his interviews and lectures, that his architecture is spontaneous for the simple reason that it is a matter of everyday life. When he says building a house instead of a building he thinks of something closer to everyday life.
He adds that the name of his studio is Amature Architecture Studio, to emphasise the spontaneous and experimental aspects of his work, opposed to the prevalent official and monumental.
Wang Shu offered an alternative style of architecture while acknowledging the need for large-scale new building projects in China. At his studio, he and his wife offer design solutions concerned with memory, history, location, identity and craft.
Awards and Winnings
Wang Shu was awarded the first Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, in the year 2007. He shared this award alongside Balkrishna Doshi, Françoise-Hélène Jourda, Stefan Behnisch and Hermann Kaufmann, future Pritzker Prize winners. He and his wife together won the German Schelling Architecture Prize in 2010, and in 2011 he received the Gold Medal from the French Academy of Architecture.
Wang won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2012. He became the first Chinese citizen and second person of Chinese descent to win the glorious award after I. M. Pei. The jury called Wang’s work timeless and deeply rooted in its context yet universal.