“In all of my architectural design activities I have constantly asked myself the following questions: How can an architecture founded on craftsmanship survive in today’s world? What is the relevance of the traditional Chinese landscape system in a world filled with gigantic artificial structures? In a society undergoing massive city-building campaigns, how should urban development be handled without resorting to major demolition and reconstruction? How can new urban buildings connect with memories of the past–that might be otherwise lost as structures are demolished–and re-establish their cultural identities? What can be done in the realm of architecture to overcome the stark contrast between urban and rural areas in China? Is it possible to ensure that alongside the top-down professional system of modern architecture, ordinary people’s right to initiate their own building activities is also protected? Is it possible to find smarter ways for addressing environmental and ecological challenges by drawing on the wisdom found in traditional architecture and grassroots building activities? Is there a way for us to express our architectural pursuit with stories and feelings without resorting to gigantic, symbolic and iconic structures? How can an independent architect maintain the attitude and work style against the background of a powerful modern system?”
Strolling the Architectural Zoo: Eisenmanis Infuribus (click to enlarge)
Later today (in my time zone), the jury of the Pritzker Prize will reveal the name of the laureate for the 2012 edition of the award. This year, the 9-member jury integrated by Lord Peter Palumbo, Alejandro Aravena, Stephen Breyer, Yung Ho Chang, Glenn Murcutt, Juhani Pallasmaa, Karen Stein, and Martha Thorne will decide the name of the architect who will be invested as the 34th laureate in a ceremony that will take place in Beijing. Thomas J. Pritzker, in reference to his city being selected as this year’s host, commented that “over the three decades of prize-giving, we have held ceremonies in fourteen different countries, in venues ranging from the white house in Washington DC to Todai-Ji temple in Nara, Japan. the tradition of moving the event to world sites of architectural significance was established to emphasize that the prize is international, the laureates having been chosen from 16 different nations to date. This will be our 34th event marking the first time we have gone to China.” Inevitably, China and Beijing have also hosted an increasing number of projects built by past Pritzker Prize laureates, such as Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Herzog&de Meuron, and I.M. Pei, winner of the 1983 edition.
Over the years, the Pritzker organization has featured a combination of total predictability, submitting to the architectural status quo by awarding its prize to the decreasing members of the star(chitectural) system who are left -and the Oscar-like custom to reward old-timers in not particularly moments of their careers before it’s too late-, and a penchant for alternating those with lesser-known names, usually artisans from the outside of the anglo-saxon market. In 2011, Eduardo Souto de Moura came (at least for me), as a pleasant surprise, and this year there seems to be a consensus -as there was last year- on Steven Holl’s or Toyo Ito’s likeability to become laureated. However, the web resounds with many other names, from David Chipperfield to Kengo Kuma and Ben Van Berkel, or even the recently deceased Luis Moreno Mansilla, among other more extravagant proposals. There seems to be also a big consensus on the unlikeability of both Daniel Libeskind and Peter Eisenman, who I think would qualify to reprise the equivalent of Martin Scorsese’s role in the Oscars of 2006.
Anyone wanna bet?
UPDATE: Finally, Chinese architect Wang Shu, from “Amateur Architecture Studio” received this year’s Pritzker Prize.
From Chigago Tribune’s Cityscapes: Wang Shu, 49 (left), deftly melds tradition and modernity, often by reusing bricks and tiles from demolished buildings in such bold new designs as a history museum in the Chinese city of Ningbo. Wang calls his office the “Amateur Architecture Studio,” yet that name is far too modest, the jury that selected him said in its citation. His work “is that of a virtuoso in full command of the instruments of architecture—form, scale, material, space and light,” said the jury, which mainly consists of architectural experts. This year, it included for the first time U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, who has a keen interest in the field.
In a telephone interview from Los Angeles on Saturday, Wang said the award was “big surprise.” He was sharply critical of the tabula rasa development practices that are transforming the cities of the world’s most populous nation. “Originally, Chinese had many beautiful cities,” Wang said in his clear but imperfect English. “They demolish everything. They called it modern city. They build a very wide road system. Then every block they give to a development company to build a high-rise apartment building. Suddenly we let every Chinese city become big suburb. (…) New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas combined together (…) is Shanghai.”
Wang and his wife, Lu Wenyu, founded their practice in 1997 in the southeastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. Their portolio spans a broad range of scales, from museums, high-rise apartments and college buildings to single-family houses whose curving roofs subtly evoke ancient Chinese pagodas. The Pritzker jury singled out Wang’s Ningbo history museum as a superbly-functioning icon that presents a powerful alternative to the twin extremes of architectural nostalgia and shock-of-the-new modernity. “In this world, people like to talk about science, technology, computer,” Wang said. I like to talk about architecture by hand–hand-drawing to hand-making.”
“His buildings have the unique ability to evoke the past, without making direct references to history,” the jury said in its citation. Although jury members knew the presentation would be made in Beijing when they deliberated earlier this year, the location of the ceremonies did not influence their decision, according to administrators of the prize. “The jury does not speak about geography. They never portion out between countries. The only concern they have is architectural quality,” said Martha Thorne, the prize’s executive director.
A fistful of useful links: The official announcement can be found at the Pritzker official site here, along with a -not that- short bio of the architect. An architectural tour through Wang Shu’s different works can be found in this post by Edgar González, and this other one in Domus, while Los Vacíos Urbanos offers a nice set of the Ningbo Museum with photgraphs by Iwan Baan (more here). Another impressive set by Evan Chakroff can be found in Archinect (more in Evan’s own blog, Tenuous Resilience), and A Weekly Dose of Architecture already featured a stroll through the China Academy of Art third campus in Zhuantang Town in this nice old post from 2008. Designboom has a couple of posts dedicated to Wang Shu’s installations in the Venice Bienale and the 2011 Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism in Shenzen/Hong Kong. Finally, Archdaily offers a review of Shu’s figure by Pritzker member of the jury Alejandro Aravena.
Also, the nice people in METALOCUS decided to translate part of this post and publish it, along with the illustration, on their website.