The designs of this 'young' architect (he is 48) come perhaps as close as it is possible to be to Archiendo's prototype*: the attention paid to historical and cultural continuity is striking; his designs seem to privilege experience rather than focusing on being photogenic; and he is a big fan of reusing materials. What's more, he seems to have a completely natural feel for a certain breed of humanist architecture, which he shows with his pearls of wisdom peppered throughout this article on Dezeen. So without further ado, lets have a look at some of the designs he has been rewarded for.
This two-phase campus development is apparently the size of a small town, and it would only be fair to judge it with a full understanding of the context and a full set of drawings, and preferably a first-hand experience of the campus itself. Instead we have a small selection of photographs, and we're generally not fair. Oh well.
Regardless, the campus comes off fairly well. It appears that the buildings are nestled around the existing natural setting, bucking the usual trend in large developments to bend the whole site to the will of the architect. This is complemented nicely by extensive use of a timber (or perhaps bamboo) cladding. The outdoor space which is always so integral to any campus is certainly considered, however it is impossible to get an idea of how successful this is from the photographs. Also there is a good variety in the style of the buildings, without being eclectic.
My favourite aspect however is the tiered roof/shade element - the combination of glass, steel and tiles is modern and yet conspicuously historical, calling immediately to mind the traditional Chinese vernacular that is so important to Wang Shu. Best of all though is that it is completely functional: these layered roofs are appropriated to become shades for the glass behind.
Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum
This design showcases Wang Shu's ability to deal with real world issues quite strikingly; during the design process, it emerged that without rentable space, the funds would not exist to operate the museum. Therefore, the entire ground floor was offered as flexible space that could be rented for absolutely anything (apart from selling fish, apparently). Yet the importance of the original building was not compromised, as the ground floor is finished in plain brick, whilst the upper levels have a much more intricate exterior. This symbolic hierarchy combines with a pair of ramped entrances to leave no doubt as to the key purpose of the building. The combination of this brick 'plinth' and repeating steel columns across the front facade seem to me reminiscent of a noble classical style, however there could potentially be a discussion as to whether this European influence is as suitable as his other cultural and historical nuances.
A nice added touch is the central courtyard, with an ethereal glass boundary and thick planting. At the risk of being cliche, this ethereal enclosure is much closer to Wang Shu's usual Chinese influences, and even looks a little bit 'Crouching Tiger'. Once again though, it remains entirely modern.
Five Scattered Houses
So few images to judge five entire, separate buildings by. What more can I say except that the buildings are well done, but it seems the sites are the greater factor here. Protip: a water's edge site is ideal for your dream home, because no one else can be arsed to build anything there so the 'land' is cheap (good luck with foundations).
Again, it is almost impossible to judge this building based on the images provided. But where the 'Scattered Houses' seem to me a little generic, the Ceramic House fills me with intrigue. Tiles seem to cover almost every surface. I get a vague feeling from a tiny cross section I found via Google that the occupied space is quite small, with a large, sloping patio-type-thing (that's what the image below is).
I'd like to think that the tiles are beautifully detailed. I'd like to think that the few rooms are perfectly arranged. I'd like to think that the sloped patio is accessible, comfortable and south-facing. But I have no way of knowing (well ok, I'm fairly confident it isn't comfortable). On the one hand, this is obviously frustrating - but on the other, I find it reassuring. Because if Wang Shu's designs cannot be shown completely in the ordinary fashion, then that must suggest that they are fundamentally different from a lot of the recent Pritzker winners. And if you're Archiendo, change is most likely good.*
Ningbo History Museum
Like the pro that I am, we segway clumsily from talking about how media-unfriendly Wang Shu's work is onto perhaps the most media friendly of all his buildings, the Ningbo History Museum. Smooth. The external form is rather 'mainstream', and awkward. I don't like it, yet unfortunately it's the image that is consistently used as the cover page of media releases. But beyond that, I don't think I can see a single fault with this building.
The above might just be one of my favourite ever architectural photos. I've included it as large as possible, so you can drool over every beautiful detail. The bamboo shuttering used on the concrete. The layered ceiling. That mezzanine level. The bamboo shuttering. The mesh which reveals the service ducts. The wood finished steel handrails. The bold, no-nonsense fixings between the handrails and the wall. BAMBOO SHUTTERING.
The external form is partially justified by the roof terrace, where the awkward, half-arsed angles transform into a kind of artificial canyon. I can't imagine walking along this roof terrace would be anything but rewarding. The external finish is stunning. As with many of the materials used by Wang Shu, much of this combination of stone, brick and tile is reclaimed material; and I love that if Wang Shu has a trademark it is a use of tiles - rather than the common, strictly visual trademarks of a form or a colour.
All in all, I am grateful to the Pritzker Prize jury for bringing this fantastic architect to my attention. He is instantly among my favourite architects, and he should be among yours too.
*The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect the ideals or opinions of the Archiendo Organisation. We reserve the right to be negative about anything, regardless of any resemblance to designs that have previously been praised.