blog post photo
Wang Shu's Ningbo Museum in Zhejiang Province, China
Photo by Siyuwj

In a surprisingly brief ceremony in Beijing's supersized Great Hall of
the People, 49-year-old Chinese architect Wang Shu was honored with the
Pritzker Architecture Prize on Friday afternoon. Its significance as the
first award given to a Chinese architect was underscored by the presence
of China's vice premier, the Mayor of Beijing and other dignitaries.
Hence the mere 30-minute program: because of the government officials'
schedules, such speakers as Lord Peter Palumbo, chair of the Pritzker
jury, had to trim their remarks.

But Wang Shu had enough time in his acceptance speech to declare an
architectural manifesto that was an attack on the' vast and rapid
expansion of China's cities as well as an implied critique of a number
of previous Pritzker laureates who—though none were named--were sitting
in the audience. In the jury citation, Wang Shu, best known for his
contemporary re-interpretation of traditional Chinese building in such
monumental designs as the Ningbo History Museum, was applauded for an
"architecture exemplary in its strong sense of cultural continuity and
reinvigorated tradition."  In his speech, Wang referred to the
modernization of China as "a sharp conflict of civilizations" and
questioned an "urbanism based on demolition and new construction." He
also questioned  a dependence on "gigantic and iconic architecture."
Besides Lord Palumbo, the current Pritzker jury is comprised of Stephen
Breyer (the U.S, Supreme  Court justice), architects Alejandro Aravena,
Yung Ho Chang, Zaha Hadid, Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa and
writer/consultant Karen Stein. All were present at the Beijing ceremony,
along with previous Pritzker laureates Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel, who
are locked in a competition, with Zaha Hadid, to design the National
Museum of Art in China.

At an architectural symposium the day before the Pritzker,  Wang Shu had
spoken out against the widespread destruction of traditional hutong
courtyard houses, which embody the essence of Chinese family life, in
favor of soulless high rises. He also expressed the belief that
technology was at the heart of destructive design (his own most
treasured professional tool, he has said, is his pencil).

After the ceremony, a banquet  followed at the Park Hyatt Hotel. Wang is
the rare high-profile contemporary Chinese architect not to have studied abroad.
He said that before he learned that he'd won the Pritzker, "I had been
pursuing my work on a lonely course."