Wang Shu Discusses Urbanization in China

Last year, in a lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), Wang Shu ofAmateur Architecture Studio confronted the effects of globalization, urbanization and rapid development on cities in China. Can design resolve tensions between global and local cultures? How should architects mediate the pressures of history and innovation? In Wang Shu, we find the value of the Amateur.

In the past twenty five years, [China] did an incredible thing … One country with three to five thousand years of history, with such rich cultural and traditional things … made a big decision to demolish it. Ninety percent, just in the past twenty-five years. They do this and then build some new things; they copy from all over the world … It is the professional urban planner and architect who did this disaster. They do this with the government together. And so I think maybe we need another kind of architect.”

Wang Shu, 2012 Pritzker Prize Laureate, from his lecture on “Geometry and Narrative of Natural Form” at Harvard GSD on November 4, 2011

Ceramic House in Jinhua, China. Source: Lv Hengzhong

Ningbo History Museum in Ningbo, China. Source: Lv Hengzhong
“Amateur Architecture Studio was founded in 1998 by Wang Shu and Lu Wenyu in Hangzhou, China. Their approach is based around a critique of the architectural profession which they view as complicit in the demolition of entire urban areas and the transformation of rural areas through excessive building. The practice first came to wider attention in Europe with their pavilion for the 10th Venice Architecture Biennale in 2006; a comment on the on-going demolitions, their installation ‘Tiled Garden’ was made from 66,000 recycled tiles salvaged from demolition sites.

“Rather than looking towards the West for inspiration, as many of their contemporaries do, the practice’s work is embedded in the history and traditions of Chinese culture. In particular they reference everyday building tactics of ordinary people and the strong vernacular tradition of building in China. The name of their practice signals this commitment to learning from the ‘amateur builder’, focusing on craft skills and applying this to contemporary architecture. Wang Shu spent a number of years working on building sites with traditional craftsmen in order to learn from them. Combining this traditional knowledge with experimental building techniques and intensive research Amateur Architecture Studio respond to the ongoing challenges of the rapidly urbanising context of China. They do so with a site-specific architecture that valorises crafts and skill over professional knowledge and expertise.” This text and more can be found here