Wang sits outside one of his buildings at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou.
Wang sits outside one of his buildings at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. © Reuters

On stage, Wang Shu carries himself with confidence, whether he is speaking in English or Mandarin. He is accustomed to making public appearances and to being the center of attention. At 53, he is China's most renowned architect, has earned numerous international awards, and has taught hundreds of students about the art of architecture. ... The work of Wang and his team at Amateur Architecture Studio, which he founded with his wife Lu Wenyu, also an acclaimed architect, stands against this trend.

Often using recycled materials, he plans courtyards with trees, as well as buildings that extend over lakes, always considering the dialogue that each of his designs will form with the environment that surrounds it.

He values craftsmanship, striking exteriors and pragmatic interiors, and the combination of modernity and tradition.

Wang's architecture "opens new horizons while at the same time resonates with place and memory," the jury of the Pritzker Architecture Prize said of Wang in 2012, when he became the first Chinese to win architecture's most prestigious accolade. (Another Pritzker winner, I.M. Pei, was born in China but had become a U.S. citizen well before receiving the prize in 1983.) "His buildings evoke the past, without making direct references to it," the jury said.

The Ningbo Museum, described as an "urban icon," and the China Academy of Art - Xiangshan Campus in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, where he is dean of the School of Architecture and where his studio is located, were cited as two of his most outstanding works.

Of the 14 projects referred to in the prize announcement, 13 were constructed together with Lu. After receiving the Pritzker award, Wang said that he felt his wife also deserved the prize, but added that he had never raised his concerns with the jury. In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais in 2014, Lu said she had never wanted international accolades. "In China, you lose your life if you become famous. I want a life, and I prefer to spend it with my son," she noted.


In 2012, he started implementing a village regeneration project that he had been researching for years. In Wencun village, west of Shanghai, the new brick houses fit neither the original vernacular settlements nor the landscape, so Wang decided to refurbish and reconstruct them. He also built a bridge, pavilions for community gatherings, and 14 new houses. Bamboo, clay, limestone and wood were used - natural and recycled materials that came at a much lower cost than conventional construction materials, and made each house unique.

He is now working on six to seven new model villages, each representing different regions and their cultural characteristics. Wang hopes that cities will learn from the countryside, and from villages like Wencun.

But even if the approach to urban construction does not change, soulless high-rises will not pass the test of time, he believes.