Wang Shu, who recently became the first Chinese architect to win the coveted Pritzker Prize, isn’t a fan of China’s rush to urbanization and it’s evident in his style. Shu’s buildings, which include museums, academies, homes, and a garden of ancient tiles, are all in some way inspired by old China, rather than emulating the West like most Chinese architects these days.
“We want to copy Manhattan,” Mr. Want said in a recent interview with the New York Times. “I love Manhattan. It’s a very interesting place. But if you want to copy something that was accomplished in 200 years, it’s very difficult. New York was not designed by architects, it was designed by time.”
Although Mr. Wang is just as eager as poor rural farmers to see more cities with comforts such as air-conditioning and supermarkets, the architect hopes that Chinese cities will grow in a sustainable way. In areas where incomes are extremely low, sustainable architecture is not merely trendy, but vital to curb costs.
Additionally, sustainability has long been a core component of Mr. Wang’s design aesthetic where he marries the old and the new, as well as Chinese and Western influences.
An example of his modern, sustainable take on Chinese architecture is the History Museum of Ningbo, which was singled out by the Pritzker jury. The jury noted that the structure boasts “strength, pragmatism and emotions all in one.”
Despite earning the Pritzker prize, don’t expect to see Mr. Wang becoming a globe-trotting “starchitect.” His current projects include a rammed-earth building that will serve as a hotel for professors visiting the China Academy of Art at Xiangshan in Hangzhou, where he was appointed professor of architecture back in 2000.
Wherever possible, Mr. Wang uses recyclable materials. He admits that some materials used at the art academy will need to be replaced in several years, but stresses that those materials, such as bamboo and wood from local yew trees, are sustainable and are all very easy to replace. These are among many unconventional choices that make Mr. Wang one of the most alluring architects in China. For now, he’s content to work on passion projects like the art academy, and leave the gigantic, Western-influenced structures to someone else. That’s because he knows he has a hand in inspiring young architects that will eventually develop their own alternative architectural style.