The 2012 Pritzker Prize, architecture's most prestigious honor, has been awarded to Wang Shu of Chinese practice Amateur Design. Shu, 48, whose buildings in a rapidly developing China honor the past with salvaged materials even as they experiment with modern forms, is the first Chinese citizen to be recipient of the award.
With a portfolio of work that transcends the separation of the past and future, Shu's work is deeply rooted in context, yet universal and timeless. His architecture bridges traditional Chinese elements with that of western modernity resulting in buildings which speak not only to their occupants and viewers but also to their surroundings.
Shu says he approaches design as a traditional Chinese painter would; he studies the settings — whether cities, valleys or mountains — for about a week as the design materializes in his mind. Beginning at the site, he contemplates the context and begins to understand the necessary typology while investigating memory. With the Ningbo Historic Museum, completed 2008, he sought to evoke what life used to be like in the harbor town.
Throughout his array of buildings, consistencies appear; his work takes on an earthy, industrial quality with unorthodox, angular shapes. More than simply being "built", Shu explains that his work is thoughtful and the "handicraft" aspect is important to him. For Shu, architecture can be likened to the creation of a Chinese garden: it requires the ability to be flexible, to improvise and to solve unexpected problems.
A graduate of the Nanjing Institute of Technology, Shu spent time working with various craftsmen to gain building experience. In 1997, with his wife Lu Wenyu, he founded his current practice. Other awards include the French Gold Medal from the Academy of Architecture in 2011 and German Shelling Architecture Prize in 2010, which was jointly given to Lu Wenyu.