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    18:90 Live Blog: Wang Shu on "Building a Diverse World Following the Natural Way"

    By noisoin
    Feb 27, '12 9:34 PM EST

    In repentance for my many absences I've decided to venture into the territory of live blogs ala Harvard's Lian - relegated to the back corner of Decafe in order to mask the terrible brightness of my laptop. Hangzhou-based architect Wang Shu speaks today, and through a happy alignment of stars, was just announced the new Pritzker Prize winner. So you can only imagine the energy and buzz radiating through the halls. 

    Given the nature of the blogging, I apologize in advance for all misconstructions, typos, grammatical shortfalls etc. 

    We're all waiting for the first Chinese Pritzker winner Wang Shu. Decafe has reached critical mass in terms of seating, but a separate room in Perloff with live feed is set up for all late comers. 

    Title of Wang's lecture: To Build a Diverse World Following the Natural Way. 

    18:36 Clapping and the dimming of lights. 

    Introductions by Neil Denari, Vice Chair. He got a call this morning from Caroline Blackburn that Wang Shu won the Pritzker Prize - he was so happy he thought he had won. What a cool moment and honor for us to have him. 

    Quoting the Pritzker jury: "To look at the state of the profession, it would seem that anything is possible. And more often than not we get anything. Wang Shu and his collaborator have avoided the sensational and teh novel, in spite of what is the short period of practice, they have delivered a modern practical poetic body of work. Their work is already an asset to Chinese history and architecture." 

    Zaha Hadid: "Wang Shu work stands up for his combination of sculptural power and contemporary sensibility (Neil comments here on her use of 'sculptural power') 

    Wang Shu is only 48 and still a very young architect. He heads the Amateur Architecture Studio... Lets just talk about the different between two french words: amateur (lover) and also auteur (author). The way architecture should be thought through and delivered to the world, if its not about love what is it about? Another definition of an amateur is someone who engages in activity for pleasure, rather than financial reasons. He keeps his office under 10 people, and chooses not to grow it in order to keep the tradition of amateur very strong. He is the lover of architecture, not the author, and if we could keep it this way.. 


    Wang Shu: I wanted to take two years off my work, because my son is ten. But then I won the Pritzker Prize. and now I dont think I can stop. But you know I do believe I should stop, and enjoy my life. Architecture is not more important to me than life. I dont believe you can be a good architect if you don't have a good life. 

    When you do the design, what do you want through your design process - what do you want to build? Is it just architecture? Everytime I dont just want to design architecture, I want to design a small world. 

    Architecture is not just one space - it is more about time. I dont know if this is clear. But I'll continue. 

    The imagination and the real reality about China: I think many people are inetrested in China, but most of the talk about China is from their imagination. We are the architects, so of course we talk about the city as a stage. I live and work in a beautiful city: Hangzhou. Its near Shanghai, not very big. The city is more similar to landscape, the architecture is mixed in with the landscape. If you have a chance to visit Hangzhou, you can still find in the center of the city a lake. Its not in the suburb - but the center. A thousand years ago, Hangzhou was the capitol of China. 

    >> Compares photos of Hangzhou 20 years ago, where the lake's banks were bare, to today, where a clear urban skyscape arises << 

    If we talk about city models, we talk about Hangzhou. Two years ago I finished a project along this street - years ago it was the main street only for the emperor. Just within twenty years, every city in China has lost its identity - they've all been changed, the roads, community, neighborhoods have disappeared. Originally Chinese did not like to move, they were rooted like plants. Then newspapers began to say, we should live like American people. And now Chinese move - they buy one house, they buy two houses, and they move. 

    China is very special: the architect can't work in the country side. The farmers build in teh country side. When people talk about the traditional city and village - they still have some power, but I dont think they're revolution, but evolution. The neo Chinese farmers learn from Western history, from the city, they learn and adapt and build some strange new building. What about the future of the Chinese country side? 

    China is a country where poetic atmosphere existed everywhere. In China we have many paintings - foreigners just see landscapes. But its not easy, to produce this painting. Every dynasty has just two or three who can produce this. Its not just drawing, but thinkig, philosopher and research into trees, mountainside. And finally you can compose a new nature painting. Sometimes I think it is very similar to design, this painting. But then I think how are they able to do that, they can control such a big landscape? How do you build this space, to control something so large. This painting is 1000 kilometers!

    To me, in Chinese traditional ideas, there was never a concept for so called green space as equivalent to landscape. People asked for "Tao of nature" spiritually and physically and tried to make the pattern of city and building in accordance with "Tao for nature". The relationship between society of human and its image, Tao of nature represents the ethnic value that is higher than human society. But artificial building and cities are able to be made following "Tao of Nature" as much as possible

    The width of viewing and thinking (slide title): For Chinese, natural means, how can we do something that is true? This painting is actually very small but it has so many different details, and people understand the mountains, water, bridge, everything, the whole nature. Someone designed this. How did they do it? Just talk about horizontal. I'm visiting Los Angeles and I think - ou can see the horizon. You can still see the line of the land. The height of viewing and thinking: Now we talk about vertical.


    viewing, thinking and wandering (slide title): In China we have a tradition esp for scholars, we have many trip. If you want to become a scholar, you atleast have a trip - that means walkng. Then maybe you can become a real scholar. 10,000 km trip. The tradition is that the scholar leaves his family house, spends two years, three years, takes a giant trip, takes boat, takes horse. Because its a long time, they need an assistant to carry a book with him. 

    what to view and think (slide title): what do scholars think about? (In landscape slide, draws horizontal line) - the scholar lives above the line, in the ideal, and below the line is reality and life. I like the French writer Proust's writing on memory - how do we understand memory? Memory is not part of a master plan, memory is not precise. First you have a memory, in small pieces, they come in taste and smell, then they remind you of other things, associations until it builds. Memory can remind you but then become the real thing. We can design something that can become real things. Its the basic principle for Chinese garden. The traditional Chinese garden is not just a park, but a philosophy machine. it helps you understand what is the meaning of nature, what is the structure, how does artificial operate? 

    What about time? I really like to talk about time. After 100 years of radical changes, does poetics still exist? I think not too much.

    Poetics of construction with recycled things (slide title) Of course, for real work, for real practice, it begins from some common things, small things. 

    Ruins, for me have a very special meaning. Everyday you see something like this (image of demolition site in China), its very good, its another side for architects and architectural students. Something like this, you can tell its a building of bricks, decayed, near to demolishment, but also very poetic. 

    Every year myself and my students wll take visits to the countryside, because the origin of culture is no long in the cities but the country. We photograph and document the trip. So many things still exist in the country side - its our hope, our future. We do this type of research and I finally made a project called 1000 Village project. We have over 10,000 rural villages and 90% are destroyed. 

    Now do we re-evaluate the value of manual construction in the process of modernization? Best question should be - our way of design. Before you have a good idea, your way of designing is 

    In 1990, I didnt do any architectural design. I stopped for many years. I went off the market, I went out of the system, I wanted to find my way of designing. n China, like America, theyre just talking and drawing on paper, but they dont really know materials. In construction they change your design, theres no responsibility. Maybe theres a different answer - in 1990, I only did building renovation works. In China, this also means you switch social standings. Every morning from 8am to 12 at night, I was there and I wanted to know everything. Up to now I still do many research on this. The constuctors don't have any drawings, any designs. They do it from memory. So how do they do it? They have over 200 rulers, and every ruler has a way to connect, tells you how to connect. 200 bamboo rulers become structures, become design. Its like the modern way, because they prepare all the elements before hand. They prepare it months in advance. They have clear principles, like mathematics. Its a very rational system - basic secret to Chinese culture! 

    2007 6 architects and 3 craftsmen: Tile Garden  

    For 2006, it was the first time China wanted to build a national pavilion in Venice. After the discussion and decison, there was only 3 months. And someone said, "In all of China, only Wang Shu can do it. Because he can do it with almost no money, in a short time, and make a pavillion." Then the Chinese coordinator said, if you dont do it, then China will never have another pavillion. So I decided to do it. I thought, if I dont do it this year, then I will have to do it next year. So I decided to just do it. 

    Because I had a craftsmen team. Just three craftsmen and six assistants, nine people - in 13 days we finished this - the 900m Chinese pavilion. I had a memory that the Italian people were very proud, they doubted we could finish. But one week later we finished. 

    The small prototype experiment before large scale project

    Some people ask, how do you do high quality experimental work at this scale? I think its easy, its parallel lines. Before we work, we research local architectural traditions. We did a four year research in Ninguo (spelling?) and then we do some small experimental 1:1 scale prototypes next to it. 


    Is it possible for arch to be more flexible and participate in shaping new values? 

    A differentiated utopia:  China we have very powerful central system, but the other side, Chinese culture is so interesting because even until now, it can have such diversity, variety, in different areas and culture. If one day, China lost its diversity and variety like in this country, real diference, not just the surface, then we have totally lost our tradition. 

    Xiangzhun Campus - More than 15,000 sq m design. It was very fast, 22 buildings. In my brain, its not just the masterplan, many small things and pieces are in my mind, then they become clear, they become physical things. Thats the Chinese way, the details. The master plan is not the first state, but the end state. When everything is clear, then you have the masterplan. One deep impression I had was one young Chinese architect said, its so ugly, this masterplan. But then they went to the site and saw it, and said, everything was right. You are right. 

    Natural and artificial, I like something like this. Stone steps worn by people walking and water. but also artificial, man made. 

    The campus, when we finished, two photographers came to take photos, they said, they don't know how to take photos. Even one single facade. Why couldn't they do it? Because here the architecture was not the most important. The different walkways, the different heights, are all different - its two things together. The inside and outside vision are different. 

    So how do you experience my work? Maybe as a scrolling landscape. (slideshow of panned photos of campus)

    How to find cheap but energy saving way of construction? Not just low budget, A new thick wall system engenders effective heating insulation. The whole project also uses 7million recycled bricks - thats a huge amount! But another interesting thing is that my building is touched by many hands, that predates this work. 

    In 2000, i come back from shanghai to hangzhou and built architecture school

    first year, 1 teacher, 20 students.  in the first two years, craftsman skill training. we have the best laboratory in china.  i do many many studios.  not many people know us, its my way, its my style, to keep it a secret.  many friends know our school, but not many people. 

    The best way to do research about bamboo, we do the construction.  how big is this building?  30,000 squre meters for this one building.  in fact, when you go to the site, its huge.  but when you see in the photos, its not that big.  like chinese paintings, when you see an image, you think its small, but when you see it, its large.  what does that mean?  what is small?  what is large?  

    I call his building a mountain. Around the building is nothing: trees, new park. The nearest building to our building is 200 meters. What does this mean? How can you design a building here? How can you plant a tree here? What is the reason to design the building here?  So i design it like a mountain. Architecture design comes from memory. 

    My work is with my wife. This Pritzker Prize is not just for me, but with my wife, my assistants, the President. 

    Its my design but its not my design. Even until now I couldnt believe, did I really design this building? Is it really my work? Many people love this building, originally the press office thought, if 3000 people come visit, it will be good. But 1 million visited in three months. 

    I had a client yell at me, why is your design so old? So dirty? Whats the meaning in this new city center? Five years later, this client gave me a very formal apology. 

    The last word today: how to reshape the rural culture in contemporary China? Is Urbanization the only way leading development? The situation is incredibly complex. Between 2000 - 2010, my studio did this work. Years ago Zhongshan Lu in Hangzhou was the main road for the emperor - here it is. Its a 6km long road. The major decided to give this job to me, but for my studio, I can only do 1 km. Whats the end, what the future? Everyone thinks traditional buildings will be demolished, so no one cares to take care of it. Its serious decay. Amateur Architecture Studio focuses on a philosophy that was devaluated for as long as a century in China. My personal requirements for accepting this commission: it must allow half a year for research; it does not permit removal of any original residents by force; no fake antiques; no street surface, must be area with depth; street must be narrowed down to 12 meters with local small building system, the model will be 1km instead of 6km. 


    When I did the design, it still wasnt finished by the time construction starts. They began, because in China things are really fast. Just one night later, the people's houses are demolished, but people are still living around the construction. In China every street was expanded. I designed this small street in order to bring it back to traditional size; this additional space became a river. 

    I wanted to build an exhibition hall. Two months before opening date, the major gave me permission. I was inetrested in a long spanning structure, and only one carpenter knew how to build it, in all of China. But he refused to build it! He said, I only build bridges, not buildings. So we did some experiments.

    His own words: "In order to adjust to the modern principles, many of the details were changed. In fact, it was a brand new structure. I asked them the price for constructing this and got a price that was only half as I had predicted. It was impossible. But then I realised that the craftsmen never look at the drawings. They either had no idea of the cast-on-site concrete I required. I sent an assistant to watch the construction everyday. If there was any unexpected situation, I would go to the site.

    One day, I heard that the craftsmen were on the strike. The government then compromised and raised the price. Seventy days later, the building was finished. I was impressed by the craftsmen’s talent. Maybe they couldn’t read the drawings, but they were familiar with materials the construction methods. In fact, they finished the museum with traditional Chinese methods."

    Above three images courtesy of Domus. 

    Question and Answer Session: 

    Audience Member: Artists try to transcend nature, but you tend to harmonize nature. Do you seek aspirations to transcend nature in your future work? 

    Wang Shu: I think, for me, everything is important. Everything is possible. 

    Audience: ... (sorry, question was impossible to hear) 

    Wang Shu: Of course I have respect for Prof. Lao Xie Tseng (name lost in translation). he is a big influence to architecture. But I also have critique - he just focuses on pattern, tempo, landmark that don't have any potential to call on people's heart. Twenty years ago, I was a very angry young man. Some poeple said, oh this guy, they go through the corridor, they say, this is not a man, this is a knife! 

    Audience: Wang Lao Xi (Wang teacher) I will ask bilingually.. In your presentation, you showed us landscape images and have divided them (the horizontal image) left and right and discuss the difference between nature and city; but then in the vertical painting, you show top and bottom and describe the relationship betwen human and nature. i was wondering, your work is very horizontal, perhaps like the first painting, but do you ever consider working vertically and building conventional Chinese towers? 

    Wang Shu: (answers first in Chinese) - oops. I'm a little confused. Actually, the painting and my architectural work are not totally the same. 

    Audience: I remember when I was a student, you talked with us about informality... What extends your interest in a more orderly and universal way? 

    Wang Shu: In my work, I'm interested in spontaneous, more informal way of work. Thats a good question. But thats really another lecture. I can only talk in the biggest term: spontaneity. Thats my best attitude. Like David challenged Goliath in fully spontaneous way . (The last sentence could have been misconstrued).  


    • Lian Chikako Chang

      Nice one! It must have been so exciting to have him there on the big day.

      Feb 28, 12 5:42 pm  · 

      well done!

      Mar 4, 12 3:19 pm  · 

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