2012 Pritzker Prize: Wang Shu

© Zhu Chenzhou

, Chinese architect and founder of , has been just announced as the recipient of the 2012 Pritzker Prize.

The Pritzker Prize’s purpose is “to honor a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture”.

In my opinion Wang Shu’s architecture presents a contemporary and progressive approach that acknowledges the rich tradition of Chinese architecture. As the future generations of Chinese architects are influenced by his architecture, a generation that will be an active part of China’s growth, he will indirectly improve how millions will live in the next few years.

He calls his office Amateur Architecture Studio, but the work is that of a virtuoso in full command of the instruments of architecture — form, scale, material, space and light - Karen Stein, Pritzker Prize jury.

You can check our interview with Pritzker Jury Alejandro Aravena about Wang Shu’s work.

Works by Wang Shu:


You can see more projects by Wang Shu, Amateur Architecture Studio, and our infographic about the history of the Pritzker Prize.

More about the announcement:

Wang Shu, a 48 year old architect whose architectural practice is based in Hangzhou, The People’s Republic of China, will be the recipient of the 2012 Pritzker Architecture Prize, it was announced today by Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation which sponsors the prize. The formal ceremony for what has come to be known throughout the world as architecture’s highest honor will be in Beijing on May 25.

In announcing the jury’s choice, Pritzker elaborated, “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.”

The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, which was founded in 1979 by the late Jay A. Pritzker and his wife, Cindy, is to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture. The laureates receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion.

Pritzker Prize jury chairman, The Lord Palumbo, spoke from his home in the United Kingdom, quoting from the jury citation that focuses on the reasons for this year’s choice: “The question of the proper relation of present to past is particularly timely, for the recent process of urbanization in China invites debate as to whether architecture should be anchored in tradition or should look only toward the future. As with any great architecture, Wang Shu ́s work is able to transcend that debate, producing an architecture that is timeless, deeply rooted in its context and yet universal.”

Wang earned his first degree in architecture at the Nanjing Institute of Technology, Department of Architecture in 1985. Three years later, he received his Masters Degree at the same institute. When he first graduated from school, 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 project – the design of a 3600 square meter Youth Center for the small town of Haining (near Hangzhou). It was completed in 1990.

For nearly all of the next ten years, he worked with craftsmen to gain experience at actual building and have no responsibility for 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.” 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”. In Wang Shu’s interpretaion, the word “pleasure” might well be replaced by “love of the work”.

By the year 2000, he had completed his first major project, the Library of Wenzheng College at Suzhou University. In keeping with his philosophy of paying scrupulous attention to the environment, and with careful consideration of 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. In 2004, the library received the Architecture Art Award of China.

His other major projects completed, all in China, include in 2005, the Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum and five scattered houses in Ningbo which received acknowledgment from the Holcim Awards for Sustainable Construction in the Asia Pacific. In that same city, he completed the Ningbo History Museum in 2008. In his native city of Hangzhou, he did the first phase of the Xingshan Campus of the China Academy of Art in 2004, and then completed phase two of the same campus in 2007.

True to his methods of the economy of materials, he salvaged over two million tiles from demolished traditional houses to cover the roofs of the campus buildings. That same year in Hangzhou, he built the Vertical Courtyard Apartments, consisting of six 26-storey towers, which was nominated in 2008 for the German based International High-Rise Award. Also finished in 2009 in Hangzhou, was the Exhibition Hall of the Imperial Street of Southern Song Dynasty. In 2006, he completed the Ceramic House in Jinhua.

Other international recognition includes the French Gold Medal from the Academy of Architecture in 2011. The year before, both he and his wife, Lu Wenyu, were awarded the German Schelling Architecture Prize.

Since 2000, Wang Shu has been the head of the Architecture Department of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, the institution where he did research on the environment and architecture when he first graduated from school. Last year, he became the first Chinese architect to hold the position of “Kenzo Tange Visiting Professor” at Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is also a frequent visiting lecturer at many universities around the world, including in the United States: UCLA, Harvard, University of Texas, University of Pennsylvania, He has participated in a number of major international exhibitions in Venice, Hong Kong, Brussels, Berlin and Paris.

Upon learning that he was being honored, Wang Shu had this reaction: “This is really a big surprise. I am tremendously honored to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize. I suddenly realized that I’ve done many things over the last decade. It proves that earnest hard work and persistence lead to positive outcomes.”

The distinguished jury that selected the 2012 Pritzker Laureate consists of its chairman, The Lord Palumbo, internationally known architectural patron of London, chairman of the trustees, Serpentine Gallery, former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, former chairman of the Tate Gallery Foundation, and former trustee of the Mies van der Rohe Archive at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and alphabetically: Alejandro Aravena, architect and executive director of Elemental in Santiago, Chile; Stephen Breyer, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Washington, D.C.; Yung Ho Chang, architect and educator, Beijing, The People’s Republic of China; Zaha Hadid, architect and 2004 Pritzker Laureate; Glenn Murcutt, architect and 2002 Pritzker Laureate of Sydney, Australia; Juhani Pallasmaa, architect, professor and author of Helsinki, Finland; and Karen Stein, writer, editor and architectural consultant in New York. Martha Thorne, associate dean for external relations, IE School of Architecture, Madrid, Spain, is the executive director of the prize.

Cite: Basulto, David. "2012 Pritzker Prize: Wang Shu" 27 Feb 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 27 May 2015. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=211941>
  • hector arderius

    amazingly intense work his, however…

  • Michael F.

    I’m not familiar with a lot of his work, unfortunately, but whats been published on ArchDaily looks alright. Can someone elaborate more upon his career and his work?

    Maybe I’m just being biased, but I’m not sure if its a good decision passing over Toyo Ito and Steven Holl again. Is there a lot of political friction between these architects and the jury that we’re just not aware of? Is it a statement against the “Starchitect” label by awarding great architects who may not have as much worldwide star power before hand?

  • ree

    a bit early for wang,for chinese architects..

    • mading

      agree, a bit early for Chinese architects. hope it’s not a political move like some are suggesting…

      • http://udk JC

        Of course it is a political decision. Read the pritzker media release. That said, I like his work. Congrats Wang!

    • 慕容星辰


  • cai kefei


  • gys44

    That is amazing!

  • 1

    too bad Pritzker, you’r becoming a plastic prize.

  • Steven

    Anyone think this might have been a political move?

    • Brian

      In China, nothing happens because of hard work.

    • h.a.

      I do. Not unlike in the case of one or two Brittish and american practices though, which received the prize due to the importance of their countries. Much harder to get a Pritzker if you belong to a insignificant country like Portugal, Switzerland or Spain

  • Babyroll

    Amazing result! Congratulations to Wang!

  • Vitruv

    I hope there is a deeper story behind this, besides the ceremony being held in beijing. The Vertical Courtyard Apartment building is really very poor.

    2For all the others: architectural import into to china is over. They can do it now themselves ;)

  • George

    We was waiting result not as we expect

  • J.R.

    Kengo Kuma?

    • h.a.


    • My take on it

      I agree kengo kuma’s work is beautiful. A hundred times better than this formalist and brutalist architect. This kind of architecture is not what we need for a better world. It’s heavy, it’s bulky, it’s formalist, there is no attention to details or sustainability. It’s plain ugly and clumsy.

  • uros s

    Congratulations Wang Shu!

  • ericyan

    congratulation to Wang!!!!

  • zahi H

    exately,….why not first:
    Kengo Kuma?
    Toyo Ito?
    Chis Bosse?

  • Andr�s M�sz�ros

    wow, i’m surprised, but he definately deserves this.

  • Bowen


  • Als

    I did’t see this coming. Why didn’t I know him? I thought I was smart.

    • jeb

      you thought wrong

      • Als

        yes, your’e right.

  • luiz Breviglieri

    Os chineses são inteligentes e,com certeza vão abocanhar mais premios.Assista ao filme 55dias em Pequin

  • Chris Carlton

    I mean, fantastic stuff, I’m very happy for Wang Shu… Is there a hex on Steven Holl? Just curious.

    • clumsybird

      Beautiful works, genuinely Made-in-China, he deserves the prize. Well done!

  • SEO

    what miss for china now? olymphic games, nobel prize and Pritzker today….what a suprise…..
    thats why i hate politic that was created by man.

  • jprati

    Wait, was this the Interesting Emerging Architects Award, or the Pritzker Prize, the award that has traditionally gone to to field’s most talented, respected, and possitively infulential architects in the world.

    I’ve heard of this guy maybe once or twice, and I think some of what he does is beautifulish.

    • http://bl-dg.com Jazzy

      Please be respectful when you make a comment. Your not knowing a Prtizker Laureate does not mean that he or she is nobody. It often shows how biased and nearsighted people become after several years of what they consider professional life. Your second comment about Wang’s work being beautifulish is also quite subjective and biased. Great architecture is not judged by its superficial beauty perceived by the beholder. (of varying architectural understanding) It is weighed by architecture’s ability to move people, evoke sensibilities, and in some of Wang’s cases, elevate the social norm. Not to mention, even the most respected architect had built so so projects.

      • jprati

        Were you moved; were your sensibilities evoked? I’m happy for you, but is not your response just as subjective as mine?

        You are right–all architects have had some duds. But for the Pritzker Prize winner, those duds should be amidst a wide body of truely notable works. Wang has 1, maybe 2 noteable works. One might say that he is up and coming, even that he has a good start at becoming a true pillar of this field. But he’s got a long way to go before standing amongst many of the other Pritzker Prize winners.

      • http://bl-dg.com Jazzy

        Yes, I was certainly moved. Moved by his reinvention of traditional languages found in Chinese architecture; Moved by his attention to detailing, crafting, and materiality ; And certainly moved by his audacity to oppose the Western architectural discourse and create something that can be Chinese, contemporary, and architecturally significant at the same time. It is true that his ouvre might not match some of the other Prtizker Laureates yet, but there is one thing that he has achieved with his work that many did not – which is to help the world acknowledge ‘ the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals.’

  • Yu

    That’s amazing!!! But a little bit early for Wang and China……

    PS: I’m from China

    • William

      I’m working in China and I agree with you. I think many of his works are fantastic, but this is such a political move.

  • Ted

    Yeah, the Chinese knockoff version of Peter Zumthor won something.

    Should we all rejoice or cry?

  • 2

    so disappointing !! Is all about materials kinda chinese Zumthor. Pritzker did you forget about Toyo Ito and Mario Botta. I guess next prize will go to Britney Spears

  • Heng

    What a shame to Pritzer Prize.
    The next recipient may probably refuse it…

  • TH 12

    joke of the day!! :)

  • A joke

    It’s a joke. It’s incomprehensible. It’s politic. The west has to stop bending to the east. The guy has just a few projects and none of them are so remarkable. I think the Pritzker prize has lost its credibility.

  • ???

    He’s got a couple good projects, but does anyone seriously think that he is more deserving than all of these guys (non of which have recieved the award):

    Steven Holl
    Bjork Ingles
    Cesar Pelli
    Adrian Smith

    • whatrutalkingabout!?

      honestly, calatrava sucks as so many other comercial stuff around…
      it’s true that might be too soon for him, but those one in your list don’t deserve it at all!

  • KL

    I really thought Holl was finally going to lay his hands on a Pritzker, but in any case, I am really happy for Wang Shu. I think he is one of few Chinese architects who are seriously exploring what Chinese architecture can be. Although I don’t always agree completely with all of this work, which sometimes board on becoming “critical regionalist”, however, I think the Pritzker jury made a terrific choice that will be good for Chinese architecture generally. It demonstrate the simple fact that being able to regurgitate a Zaha or a Koolhaas is simply not good enough to win the highest prize in Architecture. The choice reminds me of past laureates like Eduardo Souto de Moura, Glen Murcutt, Paulo Mendes da Rocha and even perhaps Peter Zumthor.

    • vahid torabi

      However, holl was quite right and they did not want to accept this..

    • vahid torabi

      I guess that they can’t understand holl’s phenomenological philosophy..

      • michael

        Didn’t you see Pallasmaa on the panel? I’m more inclined to believe this was a slightly political choice.

        Nice work from Wang Shu for the most part, particularly the History museum and i can see some of what the judges must have but his vertical courtyard is a disaster and his portfolio seems slim and not as meaningful as a Sverre Fehn or Zumthor.

  • runli guo

    I always think if only one Chinese architect can win the Pritzker Prize, that one must be Wang Shu. But I never think this time come so soon. Congratulate Wang Shu! Local buildings never die!