We had the exclusive opportunity to interview Pritzker Prize Jury Alejandro Aravena about Wang Shu’s work and the reasons of his selection as the 2012 Pritzker Prize laureate, where he cites extracts of conversations with the Chinese architect.
Wang Shu’s outstanding architecture may be the consequence of being able to combine talent and intelligence. This combination allows him to produce masterpieces when a monument is needed, but also very careful and contained architecture when a monument is not the case. The intensity of his work may be a consequence of his relative youth, but the precision and appropriateness of his operations talk of great maturity.
Consider Ningbo Museum of History: it is so powerful, so overwhelming that it deserves to be called a masterpiece. You don’t visit the building; you are hit by the building. I remember having felt the same only a few times in my life, like when visiting Kahn’s Parliament in Bangladesh or his Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. Being “hit” by a building happens very rarely in architecture, because that kind of impact tends to belong more to music or film, where the experience of a piece can be extremely moving and touching to the point of altering the mood in a deep positive way. Unfortunately this cannot be transmitted by photographs.
Then there is his distinctive use of discarded materials coming from other constructions. That technique not only makes sense in terms of sustainability; it also introduces a history in the construction, giving a wall an “overdose of time” without having to wait for aging. It also transforms every part of the building into a unique unrepeatable piece: every centimeter is different from the next one. That variation within a unity, has not only aesthetic value, but it allows for the absorption of mistakes that an unskilled labor in a rather big volume might produce; it is idealism and pragmatism synthesized in a single element.
About this building technique, he said he was recovering a tradition that got almost lost, which consisted in using the materials that were left after disasters like earthquakes or typhoons, layering bricks, tiles and stones to repair a hole here, a crack over there. He just brought it to a different scale, to the scale of the whole building. The importance of recovering such a technique is pragmatic, historic and cultural. He said he believed that architecture is a collaborative work. By employing people that have a skill that he has not, there is a creative dialogue in the construction, a mutual teaching and learning process that allows everybody to contribute with their own knowledge. He, as the architect of the project, told the workers about certain things that they do not know, but when he went to the construction site, he was taught and told about things that he does not know.
The sheer scale, minimalism and discipline of the architecture of Ningbo - begins to address an approach towards understanding the historical significance of one of the worlds richest cultures and the power of China as a transformative nation. - Inson Wood