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Professor WANG Shu

77th Congregation (2014)

Professor WANG Shu
Doctor of Social Science


Professor Wang Shu builds miraculous architecture: roads in bustling towns, exquisite houses by lakes, courtyards in the air, and mountains in the wild. Inspired by Chinese legendary architects and gardening philosophers, and with a keen interest in structure and design, he delivers divine works. He has won a raft of awards, even though in his own eyes he is but an amateur. Professor Wang is a guardian of traditional craftsmanship and a leading figure in architecture. His one-of-a-kind design ideals conquered the jury of the Pritzker Prize, enabling him to become the first Chinese citizen to win this coveted award. His works epitomise contemporary Chinese architects’ reflections on modernisation, and his reception of the award represents the international architecture circuit’s recognition and support for those reflections. With his ‘daring to move a mountain’ spirit, he has created an architectural genre with a Chinese presence. Professor Wang was born in 1963 in Urumqi of a family that originated in Lüliang, Shanxi province. As a child, he gravitated between Urumqi and Beijing, the native city of his mother. During the 4,000 kilometres journey, he would look out of the window, indulging in the alternate views of natural landscapes and cultural attractions. This experience fostered his interest in art and architecture. He enrolled in Nanjing Institute of Technology in 1981, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1985. By the time he graduated from there with a master’s degree, the institute had been renamed Southeast University. He went on to launch his career at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, now called the China Academy of Arts, concentrating on research into building restoration and the relationship between environment and architecture. His rise has coincided with China’s rapid marketisation and urbanisation, which gave birth as by-products to environment destruction and loss of social care. For Chinese architects, now is the age of opportunities, and also the age of challenges. Between 1990 and 1998, Professor Wang worked with construction workers at building restoration sites, where he learned basic building techniques and gained invaluable experience. Through the demolition and destruction of the old, he drew inspiration to create and erect the new. In 1999, he undertook the design project of the Library of Wenzheng College at Suzhou University, in what became his bold attempt to have architecture co-exist with environment. Traditional Chinese gardening philosophy suggests that buildings located between water and mountains should not be prominent. His response was to build nearly half of the library’s structure underground, like vegetation growing on water. The rectangular main body, sitting against mountains and above water, is flanked by four additional smaller buildings, forming an interconnecting and balanced unit. Professor Wang resumed his teaching role at the China Academy of Arts in 2000 upon receiving his PhD from Tongji University’s School of Architecture. He served as the department head when the Architecture Department was established in 2003. In 2007, he was promoted to Dean of the Academy’s newly founded School of Architecture. His architectural style matured at the advent of the new millennium. In 2001, he was responsible for the design of the Academy’s Xiangshan campus at Zhuantangzhen, a suburb of Hangzhou. He made a venturous and ambitious statement in this project, constructing a mini city of nature. The Xiangshan campus comprises more than 20 building clusters, each with a unique character, providing different settings for studying, working and living. As envisioned by Professor Wang, the campus embodies a sustainable Chinese city, a miniature he names ‘Chinese vernacular sustainable construction’. The walls and roofs of the campus buildings are covered by over seven million tiles collected from demolished houses in various provinces in East China. As an aesthetical highlight, he leveraged the traditional Chinese concept that stresses the combination of substance and nothingness in the buildings, with its layer-by-layer stack effect intriguing and fascinating the users. In the same year, his apartment building project in Hangzhou, featuring a ‘vertical courtyard’ design, brought his childhood memories of Beijing’s courtyard houses to the waterfront of the Qiangtang River. Starting from the Xiangshan project, Professor Wang has showcased his outstanding skill in managing the coexistence of different textures. He particularly excels in putting idling and scattered architectural items in order, creating dazzling three-dimensional or even multi-dimensional effects. The Ningbo Five Scattered Houses is a case in point. It is the collective name for five functional houses at five different places in the centre of Yinzhou New Town. The buildings were built with traditional Chinese construction techniques and materials, including rammed earth, tempered glass, and precast concrete. And they once again feature recycled tiles. In 2007, the Hangzhou government commissioned Professor Wang on a restoration project for Imperial Street of the Southern Song Dynasty at Zhongshan Road. Due to a lack of proper maintenance, the so-called Imperial Street was actually run-down, even officially categorised as ‘worn and broken’. Faced with the massive challenge to turn it around, Professor Wang again mustered his ‘daring to move a mountain’ spirit. He led a team and worked tirelessly on the project for two years, bringing the ‘worn and broken’ street to life. Now, Imperial Street has become a landmark of Hangzhou, an integral part of this beautiful city. In 2008, the Ningbo Historic Museum, a work of Professor Wang, was completed. In this project, he demonstrated that he could not only move a mountain, but build one! The Ningbo Historic Museum is a nature-inspired construction that echoes the images of hills and mountains. It features mountainous elements such as valleys and caves, showcasing undulating yet orderly landscapes. Typical and iconic traditional items such as recycled tile walls and light courts are repeatedly on display. Professor Wang often refers to his architectural practice as amateur. From his perspective, he is actually an ecologist, or, like myself, a historian. He once said, ‘I wish to collect materials from demolished buildings in this area and recycle them, using them with new materials to construct new buildings. I wish to build a little city that comes to life, and in it rekindle lots of memories.’ Professor Wang’s architectural works have won him an array of prestigious accolades, including the First Architecture Arts Award, China (2004); the Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction in the Asia Pacific, Switzerland (2005); the First Global Award for Sustainable Architecture, City of Architecture and Heritage, France (2007); the Special Mention of the Venice Architecture Biennale (2010); the Schelling Architecture Prize, Germany (2010); the Gold Medal, Academy of Architecture, France (2011); and, as mentioned above, the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2012). In 2011, he became the first Chinese architect to hold the position of Kenzo Tange Visiting Professor in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. In 2013, Time Magazine listed Professor Wang as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. The Chinese University of Hong Kong is on a mission to combine tradition with modernity, and to bring together China and the West. This is exactly what Professor Wang’s architectural style and concept stands for. Mr Chairman, I have the great honour of presenting to you Professor Wang Shu for the award of Doctor of Social Science, honoris causa, in recognition of his architecture ideals of turning waste into fabulous works, combining Chinese and Western elements, bringing together humans and nature, and harmonising traditional and modern styles, as well as his contributions in pioneering and leading the sustainable way for Chinese architecture.