Discovering Wang Shu
by Zheng Xuhui
I discovered Wang Shu1 while I was looking for a graduation thesis topic in 2007. During that time, my thesis advisor at NUS (National University of Singapore) was Professor Bobby Wong Chong Thai, who specialised in architectural theory and criticism. From the start, I knew that I wanted to research the work of Chinese architects and Chinese architecture, and when I presented photographs of Chinese architect Wang Shu’s work to Professor Wong, he immediately gave me the go ahead.
Summer 2007: In the name of research, I embarked upon a study trip to Hangzhou and Ningbo to visit several works by Wang Shu. This included the China Art Academy (Xiangshan Campus), Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum, and what Wang Shu called the “Five Scattered Houses” – five small scale buildings of an investigative nature. The tea rooms and art galleries that made up the house collection left a deep impression on me. Each house adopted and enlarged upon various aspects of traditional Chinese architecture: in terms of form – the eave; materials – clay tiles; stylistic motif – the lattice screen; technique – framed views and borrowed scenery; lastly, aesthetic sensibility – in the form of naturally undulating rhythms and graceful compositions.
What I was searching for was a truly authentic, contemporary Chinese architecture – an architecture of our time that embodied the spirit of Chinese literati culture at its very core. As I stood before the five small buildings with their tiles, concrete, steel and glass, I saw a miniature utopia in which the essence of traditional Chinese architecture had been distilled. While traditional building materials, spatial concepts, detail articulation and landscaping techniques were clearly visible in the architecture, in no way were any of these aspects rigidly interpreted or applied, for Wang Shu had somehow managed to extract the poetic qualities of these traditional “markers” of classical Chinese architecture, and reworked them to produce a fresh new meaning.
My final thesis examined the approaches adopted by Wang Shu and Italian architect/theorist Aldo Rossi2 with respect to building typology, semiology and Roland Barthes‘3 theory of mythology, comparing their creative origins and design methodologies, and drawing parallels between them.
Two architects- one from the East and one from the West, with roots steeped in two vastly different classical traditions and civilisations – I could not help but marvel as I uncovered the astonishing similarities between their works and philosophies.
1 Wang Shu, Chinese Architect, Pritzker Prize laureaute 2012
2 Aldo Rossi, Italian Architect, Pritzker Prize laureaute 1990
3 Roland Barthes, French literary critic, philosopher and semiologist ♦
Note: This is an English translation of the original Chinese text by the author, which can be found below.
“五散房”, 王澍。摄影: 郑许卉, 2007年夏天。
我在2007年寻找毕业论文题目的时候，发现了王澍¹。 当时我的导师是国大建筑系的Bobby Wong Chong Thai老师，擅长理论。我想写中国的建筑师和中国的建筑，当我把王澍的建筑照片呈现在导师眼前时，他同意了我的命题。
我的论文最终写的是王澍与西方建筑师奥尔多•罗西²的创造性的异曲同工之处， 联系 “建筑类型学 (Typology)”, “符号学 (Semiology)” 和罗兰•巴尔特³的神话虚构 (Mythology) 理论 ，追溯中西方的艺术渊源和他们各自的创作基点和途径——如此迥然相异，又令人惊叹的平行。
1 王澍， 中国建筑师，2012年获普利兹克奖(Pritzker Prize)。
2 奥尔多•罗西 (Aldo Rossi)，意大利建筑师，1990获普利兹克奖(Pritzker Prize)。
3 罗兰•巴尔特 (Roland Barthes)，法国文学批评家、哲学家和符号学家。♦