Contemporary China’s building rhythm is unstoppable. Whether it’s an innovative urban rooftop farm in Changsha, or an exciting Qing dynasty renovation with a modern minimalist twist, China has been at the fore of some of the most exciting design projects of recent years. Make no mistake, Chinese architects are making their mark on the world. Here are five of the biggest names to know.
Chinese Architects To Know
After being awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2012, Wang Shu’s ascent into the architecture elite became official. Of his work, the Pritzker Prize jury commended his ‘ability to transcend the usual past-versus-future, traditional-versus-modern divide’. Overall, Wang’s designs pay tribute to artisan Chinese craftsmanship, albeit with a thoroughly modern twist.
Born and educated in China, Wang is currently based in Hangzhou where he is the sitting dean of the School of Architecture in the China Academy of Art. Beyond academia, Wang and his partner/wife, Lu Wenyu, co-founded the Amateur Architecture Studio (业余建筑工作室). In name and philosophy, the studio takes a stand against the ‘professional, soulless architecture’ practiced in China, which they believe has contributed to the eradication of many traditional neighborhoods.
“We [China] are the largest construction site in the world, but the majority of materials used are concrete and steel.There is almost no place for handmade, traditional and natural materials. But we are committed to turning that around. We want to bring back manual construction into modernization.” — Wang Shu
Xiangshan Campus – the Chinese Academy of Art’s newest addition – is Wang’s signature project. It’s also the project which impressed the Pritzker jurors the most. Boasting a rich environment where an emphasis on nature and livability reigns supreme, Wang describes it as ‘an experiment in trying to influence the city with the countryside’.
Yung Ho Chang
Architect and installation artist Yung Ho Chang has found international fame in the art and design world. In his own words, “I failed to be an artist but I became an artistic architect.”
Yung studied at the Nanjing Institute of Technology (now Southeast University) before heading to the US to study at Berkeley. After teaching in the US for 15 years, serving as MIT’s Head of the Department of Architecture, he returned to China to establish the country’s first private architectural office, Atelier FCJZ. Since its founding in 1993, the studio has been involved in numerous exhibitions and installations worldwide.
“When you find a piece of stone which is three or four hundreds years old, then you understand the notion of time as more than what we can experience as human beings. At that moment the old thing might be beautiful, it might be ugly. It doesn’t matter, but it gives you a sense of profound time, and then you understand your history and ancestors that lived in a different world, different from the one we are in now.” — Yung Ho Chang
Notable achievements include scooping first prize in the competition to design the Shenzhen Media Group building in China, and the ‘Split House by the Great Wall’. The ‘Vertical Glass House’ in Shanghai is also worthy of attention. Encased in a concrete wall cast, the design defies the typical approach to the contemporary glass house.
Born in 1970, Zhang Ke is a graduate of both Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. An award-winning architect, he is a recipient of the Aga Khan Award and the Alvar Aalto Medal.
He founded his Beijing-based studio ZAO/standardarchitecture in 2001. The firm is behind notable projects such as the Novartis Campus Building in Shanghai, the 2013 Micro Hutong Hostel, and the Museum for China Academy of Art in Hangzhou.
The firm’s standout project however has to be the award-winning Cha’er Children’s Library and Art Center. A stunning example of adaptive reuse, the design re-imagines a hutong courtyard for the modern age.
Ma Yansong graduated from the Beijing Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture before attending Yale University, earning a master’s degree in architecture. He worked under master architects Peter Eisenman and Zaha Hadid, before finally forming MAD Architects in 2004.
His masterful skill in design, coupled with his unique take on architectural discourse, has captured the attention of many in the industry. For this reason, it’s fair to say that Ma has been crucial in putting China on the map as a serious player on the global architecture stage.
When it comes to MAD Architects, the studio aims to create spaces which embody a ‘contemporary interpretation of the Eastern affinity for nature’. Think futuristic, technologically-advanced designs paired with organic forms inspired by the natural world. Notable works include the Living Garden pavilion in Beijing and the soon-to-be-completed Zendai Himalayas Center in Nanjing.
I. M. Pei
An icon of modern design, architect I. M. Pei is perhaps the world’s best known Chinese architect. Although he has spent most of his life in the US, he was originally born and bred in Guangzhou. An alumni of both MIT and Harvard, Pei is often revered as the last surviving architect from the modernist era. Academic pedigree aside, he is best known as the design brains behind the Louvre Pyramid in Paris and Hong Kong’s Bank of China Tower.
Business-wise, he is the founder of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. Though Pei retired from the partnership in 1990, he still occasionally collaborates with the firm on key projects. The most notable of these include New York’s Four Seasons Hotel and the German Historical Museum in Berlin.
As you can imagine, Pei has more than a few awards to his name. The most prestigious of these include the Pritzker Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United States.
How many of these famous Chinese architects do you know?