Emerging Chinese Firms | The Plan
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Emerging Chinese Firms

Studio Pei Zhu | Amateur Architecture | MAD | MADA S.P.A.M.

Talented young Chinese architects are beginning to win competitions for every kind of building, from high rises to campuses and civic centers, as well as tiny gems. Many were trained abroad and worked in foreign offices before returning to set up their own small firms. Their optimism is inspiring and surprising, given the pressures from profit-hungry developers and entrenched bureaucrats. They have to battle for jobs with top practitioners from around the world as well as huge state institutes that enjoyed a monopoly in architectural design and engineering until eleven years ago. The newcomers aren’t playing in that league yet, but they’ve realized far more in a few years of practice than most of their contemporaries in the West. Xu Tiantian, who got her masters degree from Harvard and set up her firm, DnA, in 2004, speaks for her peers. “There are frustrations, but it’s exciting to be working in China at this time”, she remarked. “The ambition in society pushes you to explore untried possibilities”. One of the best-regarded newcomers is Wang Shu of Amateur Architecture Studio, who teaches and practices in Hangzhou, a former imperial capital. At age 38, he won the commission to build a new campus for 5,000 students of the prestigious China Art Academy, on farmland at the edge of the city. He designed the twenty-one buildings to nestle into the landscape, and uses water to recreate the intimate scale of the old canal towns that have been swallowed up by Shanghai and neighboring cities. Tiles cascade down sloping roofs and projecting sun-screens are stacked end-on atop swooping concrete roof vaults. Borrowing a local technique of building from the rubble left by frequent hurricanes in the China Sea, the architect mixed fragments of terracotta tile with the traditional gray bricks for several walls. An informal gallery of poured concrete with jagged openings adds a contemporary note. “The old guard still wields power, but a new generation and new styles of expression...

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