Yesterday, the Hyatt Foundation announced Wang Shu as the 2012 laureate for the Pritzker Prize. If you’re first thought reading this is “Wait, who?!” then you’re not alone. His work is fantastic, even if it’s unfamiliar to nearly everyone outside of architecture, and unfamiliar to a sizable number of architects, too. I’ve been reading reactions to the news of his selection, trying to gauge if other folks are as surprised as I am by his recognition. It’s surprising not because his work doesn’t deserve the recognition, but because the committee selected the architectural equivalent of “a band so cool you haven’t even heard of them yet.” So here’s a few of the reactions as well as more information about Shu and his hilariously-named practice: Amateur Architecture Studio.
• Christopher Hawthorne just happened to sit down to lunch with Shu this weekend in downtown LA (Shu is in town and spoke last night at UCLA) asking if Shu’s wife, Lu Wenyu, deserved to share the prize with him.
• Alejandro Aravena, a member of the selection committee for the prize, wrote an eloquent essay, er talk, about Shu’s selection, describing a moving visit to a history museum designed by Shu (and his wife) in the city of Ningbo. Aravena repeats some of the points from the official announcement about the rapid development of China and Shu’s use of material reclaimed from older constructions.
• Aaron Britt, from Dwell, says that Shu’s recognition may signal more awards in the future to Asian architects. Britt’s not alone, as even the press release talks about the rising importance of China:
“The fact that an architect from China has been selected by the jury, represents a significant step in acknowledging the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals.In addition, over the coming decades China’s success at urbanization will be important to China and to the world. This urbanization, like urbanization around the world, needs to be in harmony with local needs and culture. China’s unprecedented opportunities for urban planning and design will want to be in harmony with both its long and unique traditions of the past and with its future needs for sustainable development.”
I’m not sure this means the committee will rain Pritzker medallions all over China for the foreseeable future, as it’s anyone’s guess where the prize will land next. Some of the more combative comments about Shu’s selection for the award have something do with the friction between Shu’s talent and how his selection is perceived. I would guess that folks unhappy with his selection view the prize as validation of someone’s reputation: a lifetime achievement award that cements some pre-existing reputation. In Shu’s case, the prize creates his reputation for many people. “He’s won the Pritzker Prize so he must be amazing, right?” He is, and I think his selection is appropriate even if surprising. Maybe Wang Shu is a band you haven’t heard of, but maybe you’ll like listening to it, too.
More photos of Shu’s work, and more information, on the Pritzker Foundation website.