By Benjamin Cost
The interior of the Ningbo Historic Museum
Hangzhou architect Wang Shu has won the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize for his dramatic works that recycle materials in tribute to China’s past. His victory marks a first for a Chinese citizen (I.M. Pei was the first Chinese-born architect to capture the prize) and at 48 years old, the 2012 Laureate is also the the fourth youngest architect to ever attain this honor.
Wang said of the win:
“This is really a big surprise. 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.”
Staying true to his mantra, Wang has proved quite the prolific artist. His projects include the Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum, the Ningbo History Museum, and Suzhou University’s Wenzheng College library; the winner of the 2004 Architecture Arts Award of China.” His China Academy of Art in Hangzhou reportedly consists of over 2 million tiles salvaged from the wreckage sites of historical homes.
Wang also boasts some impressive academic credentials like founding the Amateur Architecture Studio firm in 1997 and overseeing the China Academy of Art’s Architecture program for 10 years running. Not to mention that he guest lectures at the world’s most prestigious universities, including Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania.
And now, Wang will be the proud recipient of $100,000 and a bronze medal at the official Pritzker prize ceremony on May 25 in Beijing.
But Wang’s value as an architect extends beyond his accolades and into the realm of trendsetting:
The selection of Mr. Wang, 48, is an acknowledgment of “the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals,” said Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the prize and announced the winner on Monday.
The panel of judges added:
“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.”
Timeless or not, Wang Shu’s work and that of Chinese architects in general could dictate the direction of the global architecture curriculum in the future. His achievement also stands as a symbol of how far Chinese innovation has come since its days as a sideshow at world’s fairs when French, British, and American constructions hogged the limelight – something that can be said for Chinese wine (which is not the swill it once was), cars, and other products that may crop up as worldwide trendsetters during the Sino boom time.