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Chinese architect Wang Shu wins Pritzker Prize, architecture's top honor

Feb 29, 2012

Wang Shu

Chinese architect Wang Shu is this year's winner of the Pritzker prize, his profession's highest honor, in recognition of his efforts in designing "timeless" buildings in a nation in rapid flux, the foundation that oversees the prize announced Tuesday. 

Wang, 48, whose modestly named practice Amateur Architecture Studio is based in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, is only the second architect of Chinese origin to win the Pritzker, after Guangzhou-born I.M. Pei in 1983. 

"Wang Shu?s oeuvre, seen in depth by the jurors during a visit to China, left no doubt that we were witnessing the work of a master," said jury chairman and British property developer Lord Peter Palumbo. He said the decision to give the Pritzker to Wang -- and in doing so catapult him into the elite of global architecture -- was unanimous among the nine jurors who included past laureates Zaha Hadid and Glenn Murcutt

The $100,000 honor will be formally presented to Wang in Beijing on May 25. "This is really a big surprise," said Wang in a statement issued by the Hyatt Foundation of Los Angeles, which administers the prize that is sometimes known as the Nobel prize of architecture. "I am tremendously honored... 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." 

Trained in architecture at the Nanjing Institute of Technology, Wang undertook his first project, a local youth center outside Hangzhou, in 1990, then spend a decade alongside craftsmen to gain hands-on building experience. His first major undertaking, a Suzhou University library in 2000 that earned him a national prize, was followed by art and history museums in Ningbo, sections of the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, and an apartment complex. His fondness for marrying old and new, and his passion for sustainability, once saw him salvage more than two million tiles from demolished traditional houses to finish roofs at the Hangzhou art school. 

"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," Palumbo said. 

"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." Other Pritzker laureates include Norman Foster, Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. Last year the honor went to Portugal's Eduardo Soutoo de Moura.