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Shu Wang
Shu Wang
* Ürümqi, China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá], 1963
nationality: chinese
Amateur Architecture Studio
218 Nanshan Road
310002  Hangzhou -
Tel: +86.571.8716.4708 - Fax: +86.571.8716.4708
Wang Shu Amateur Architecture StudioWang Shu, who makes his home and works in Hangzhou, China, was born on November 4, 1963 in Urumqi, a city in the western most province of The People’s Republic of China, Xinjiang. His father is a musician as well as an amateur carpenter. His mother, who lives in Beijing, is a teacher for young children and a school librarian. His sister followed in their mother’s footsteps and is also a teacher.

His parents’ pursuits sparked Wang Shu’s interest in materials, crafts and literature. When he was a teenager, he often had to travel 4000 km between Urumqi and Beijing, which took four days and four nights. These travels afforded him the opportunity to grow up experiencing vast, changing landscapes. Without any formal instruction, he began to draw and paint on his own. Those early experiences seemed to be leading him toward a career as an artist or writer.

Many of Shu’s drawings were left on the walls of the narrow street adjacent to the courtyard of the home where he once lived in Beijing. Even many years after he moved away, his neighbors protected the drawings on the walls, waiting for his return. However, Wang Shu chose to live and work in Hangzhou because of the city’s famous natural landscapes and its long tradition of water and hill landscape painters.

His parents pointed out that it would be extremely difficult to earn a living in an artistic field and pushed him to study science and engineering. He compromised by studying an arts-related scientific- engineering field, architecture. When his teachers learned of his plans, he says, “They thought I must be crazy, but so few ordinary Chinese people really know anything about the study of architecture.” After several months of studying architecture, Wang Shu knew that it was the profession he wanted to learn. After graduating from the Department of Architecture at Nanjing Institute of Technology, he worked for the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou doing research on the environment and architecture in relation to the renovation of old buildings. Nearly a year later, he was at work on his first architectural commission, the design of a 3600 square meter Youth Center for the small town of Haining (near Hangzhou). It was completed in 1990.

From 1990 to 1998, he had no commissions, and he preferred not to take a government or academic position. Instead, he worked with craftsmen to gain experience in actual building. Every day, from eight in the morning until midnight, he worked and ate with the craftsmen–considered by many to be the lowest level of their society–learning everything he could about construction practices. The projects he did at that time were all renovations of old buildings. Because old buildings were dismantled during the fast development of cities, all of the projects Shu worked on during this time were demolished.

When he was a student at university in the 1980s, he began studying the art history of China, Europe, India, Africa and America, and gradually expanded his field of study to historic art as well as contemporary art, philosophy, literature, anthropology and film. During 1990 to 1998, he continued his research in these fields. In Wang Shu’s words, “I believe in starting with a broad vision and condensing it to fit the local situation.”

It was in 1997 that he and his wife Lu Wenyu, who is also an architect, founded “Amateur Architecture Studio,” which has grown into a ten-person office, and has become a fairly well known name in China. The name is a partial response to their critique of the architecture profession in China, which they view as complicit in the demolition of entire urban areas and excessive building in rural areas. He says, “I can’t do this, we must not demolish history in order to develop.”

He often explains that part of the motivation behind his design is to remind people what life in the past was like in the lovely harbor city of Ningbo. Rather typical of his thought and work processes is the Ningbo Historic Museum, a commission that he won as a result of an international competition in 2004. By collecting recycled building materials form the area to be used in the construction of the museum he was seeking to make a building that could be a small city in its own right and bring up memories of the past.

Wang Shu explains his work procedure as having three distinct stages. The first is to convince the government and the client. Second, he deals with the design details in relation to construction issues. And third is the acceptance of the building by those who will use it. He describes this phase as, “the hardest of all, because the Chinese often think of a building as just a container whose functions can change at will. I can have no influence on this third stage.”

He describes his design process as being very similar to the traditional Chinese painter. First, he studies the cities, the valleys and the mountains. Then he thinks about these things for about a week, not drawing at all. Then—as was the case with the Ningbo Historic Museum—the design materializes in his mind. The design for the Ningbo Historic Museum came to him one night when he could not sleep, so he took pencil to paper and drew everything, including numbers, structure, sizes of spaces, locations of entrances and other functions. “Then,” he says, “I drank tea.” The whole process is one of thinking, drawing and discussing. Step-by-step a more defined and project evolves, and then assistants from his office participate by creating further plans and computer drawings. The next step involves a discussion about details and materials.

Wang Shu has described a situation when he had to design three museums in three different places at the same time. “My wife, Lu Wenyu, and I are the only partners in the studio. The rest are all our students. I sent them all home for a month so I could work on these three museums. But they were not on vacation. They all had homework assignments: books to read on French philosophy, Chinese paintings to study or movies to watch, whatever might be helpful. When we all got back together, we had discussions and then began to work again on the projects.” His role of teacher extends beyond his studio. In 2000, he became a professor at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. In 2003, he was named head of the Architecture Department there, and in 2007, he was made the Dean of the Architecture School.

In numerous lectures and interviews, Wang Shu has repeated this sentiment, “to me 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.”

By naming his practice “Amateur Architecture Studio,” Wang explains that the “handicraft aspect” of his work is more important to him that what he considers much of the “professionalized, soulless architecture practiced today.” At an architecture conference in Beijing in the 1980s, he created controversy when he stated that there was no architecture in China. He defined an architect in China then as simply someone who knew how to draw, and could be drawing all day, but not necessarily thinking about what he was drawing. He feels that the situation today has changed, but that the influence of money and business is too strong.

With further elaboration, Wang Shu says, “The ‘Amateur Architecture Studio’ is a purely personal architecture studio. It should not be even referred to as an architect’s office because design is an amateur activity and life is more important than design. Our work is constantly refreshed by various spontaneous things that occur. And, most important, we encourage independence and individualism to guarantee the experimental work of the studio.”

Wang also speaks of the temporary character of his firm’s work. “My belief is that architecture should work hand-in-hand with time. Sometimes I prefer to use less costly materials that can be replaced when damaged. And I associated buildings and plants—when they come together, as long as time keeps going, architecture is subject to constant changes. Temporary, as I use the word, is not meant to mean disposable.”

He has often commented that he sees himself as a scholar, craftsman and architect, in that order. This belief is reflected in the design process of his work. A project is open to change and able to adapt constantly in response to the environment and conditions–even conditions that may arise during the building phase of a project. His studio’s work is often characterized by spontaneous changes that occur throughout the process of design and construction.

He explains further, “A hundred years ago in China, the people who built houses were artisans; there was no theoretical foundation for architecture. Today, an official architectural system has been established, but I chose handicrafts and the amateur spirit over the system. For myself, being an artisan or an amateur is almost the same thing.” His interpretation of the word amateur is relatively close to one of the unabridged dictionary’s definitions: a person who engages in a study, sport or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons. Although in Wang Shu’s interpretation, the word “pleasure” might well be replaced by “love of the work.”

He compares this concept to creating a Chinese Garden, which he says really cannot be designed. “Many unforeseeable things happened here in China all the time so you have to improvise,” he explains, “it is better to be able to solve problems at the moment they arise.” He emphasized that the need to be flexible when building is typical in China.

Wang Shu often express that for him, humanity is more important than architecture and simple handicraft is more important than technology. The name of his office “Amateur Architecture” reveals his design approach and experimental and critical attitude toward the building process. “I design a house instead of a building,” says Wang Shu. “One problem of professional architecture is that it thinks too much of a building. A house, which is close to our simple and daily life, is more fundamental than architecture.”

As for early Chinese influences, he considers Tong Jun, a Chinese architect who researched the Jiangna Gardens of Suzhou, the main one. Wang Shu’s passion for calligraphy has prompted at least one journalist to write that sometimes his designs reflect the freedom of brushstrokes and the tension between Chinese calligraphic characters. From the international community, he lists Aldo Rossi, Alvaro Siza (both Pritzker Laureates), Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Louis Kahn, Carlo Scarpa, and some of Pritzker Laureate Tadao Ando’s early work.

Not surprisingly, Wang Shu serves as Dean of the Architecture School at China Academy in and has designed some 21 buildings spread over some 130 acres near Xiangshan; he now teaches at the school as well. One of his most important commissions, it was accomplished in two three-year phases.

In 2009, his solo exhibition, “Architecture as a Resistance” was shown at the BOZAR Art Center in Brussels, Belgium. He is a frequent guest lecturer at colleges and universities around the world, and is often invited to speak at international conference and institutions.
Pritzker Architecture Prize [ » read more ]
Médaille d'or
Académie Français d'Architecture
German Schelling Architecture Prize
2010 - 2010
Ningbo Tengtou Pavilion
China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá] » Shanghai
2003 - 2008
Ningbo History Museum
China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá] » Ningbo [Níngbō]
2001 - 2007
Vertical Courtyard Apartments
China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá] » Hangzhou
2004 - 2007
Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase II
China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá] » Hangzhou
2004 - 2006
Ceramic House
China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá] » Jinhua [Jīnhuá]
2003 - 2006
Five Scattered Houses
China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá] » Ningbo [Níngbō]
2001 - 2005
Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum
China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá] » Ningbo [Níngbō]
2002 - 2004
Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Phase I
China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá] » Hangzhou
1999 - 2000
Library of Wenzheng College
China [Zhōngguó/Zhōnghuá] » Suzhou
"Wang Shu", GA Document 112, may 2010 [China Today], p. 57 (94-143)
Wang Shu, Humlebæk (Denmark), Louisiana Museum of modern art, 9 february / 30 april 2017
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