Peter Wolkowicz, Shanghai
Coincidentally, two days prior to our trip, the Pritzker jury announced Hangzhou based architect Wang Shu as the prize’s winner in 2012. Thus, on arrival we saw the university plastered with red banners expressing “warmest congratulations” and our hosts were reasonably happy and proud to boast with him – the two campuses of the China Academy of Art (CAA) were both widely designed by him.
Adopting its name from the Pritzker family, ranking among America’s wealthiest families (owning the Hyatt group and banks, tobacco works and more), the Pritzker Prize is one of the most renowned honouring in the field of architecture and often referred to as the Architecture’s Nobel Prize – including a 100.000 USD grant. Since 1979 the Pritzker family annually awards ”a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision, and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture“.
Choosing a Chinese architect certainly is partly a political one. Just like NBA teams recently learned that signing a Chinese (or at least resembling) can easily rise audience rating and merchandise a tenfold, the world in many aspects cannot ignore China any more. The prize committee states: “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.”
Finally, when visiting the CAA’s new campus somewhat far off from the city center, we cannot help but joining the public amazement: the whole campus seems like a tranquil village. Embedded between hills the campus seems like a design hotel or a huge garden rather than a university campus. The buildings all blend in well with the surrounding and even if we wouldn’t have learned who Wang Shu was, we could certainly not have realized this terrific atmosphere created by the buldings. The Pritzker jury calls it ”timeless, deeply rooted in its context and yet universal”. We agree.