China must be going crazy. In recent years, the growth of China has been incredible. We have often likened the massive surge of projects in the country to the explosive levels of architectural experimentation in Dubai. OMA, Hadid, Holl, Foster, Morphosis – strong powerhouses of architecture – all seeking to help China meet the demands of its emerging world power position by springing from the basis of a historically isolated culture and leaping to craft a more globalized image for the country. Such an image creates the desire for an architecture which can continually out shine itself as it challenges traditional materiality, scale and contextual relationships in China’s modern cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, Hangzhou and West Kowloon. Perhaps, that is precisely why many have not heard of Wang Shu and Amateur Architecture Studio. And, perhaps, that is precisely why this Pritzker award carries such weight.
Shu is a local architect. In an age where the goal is to offer a distinct, individualized style, Shu has shied away from such a prerogative. Ironically, with his manner of seamlessly meshing the contemporary with the cultural, innovation with tradition, Shu’s work has come to define itself. The work is infused with fresh material juxtapositions and an expressive quality grounded in traditional formal proportions and scale. The Pritzker jury explained, “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 Shu has often said that “…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 experimental aspects of my work, as opposed to being ‘official and monumental’.” We have shared great coverage to provide a closer understanding of the work of Wang Shu. We particularly enjoy the Ningbo History Museum as Shu’s distinctive manner of integrating discarded elements allows the building to not only physically reference the history of building in China, but also breathes life into the structure. The architecture becomes a physical memory of the past and carries a high emotional content, as Pritzker prize juror Alejandro Aravena notes“because if there is something rather clear in Wang Shu’s architecture, it is that it is moving, powerful and that it works even at the level of feelings.” Although some may identify China with the flashy images of a bustling metropolis, Wang Shu has explained his connection to the historical side of China – the smaller regions where cultural identity still runs strong and traditions are rooted in an appreciation for nature. Such regions are the authentic China for Shu, and his work seeks to reference and praise those virtues. It is the strength of the Pritzker jury, and the dynamics of our field, to appreciate talent, be it from someone in the industry for one year or several decades. Talent is not defined by years of experience or an exhaustive list of built projects, but rather, talent is rooted in the ability to make architecture more than just a building. The emotional and cultural quality of Shu’s work has proven his capabilities, and we look forward with anticipation to see his next move.