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Tradition and Modernity BETWEEN IDENTITY AND FORM

Atelier Z+

Tradition and Modernity BETWEEN IDENTITY AND FORM
By Li Xiangning -

During the last thirty years, Chinese urban planning and architectural design have advanced triumphantly. However, along with the disenchantment with modernity and the duplications of Western cultural forms, China has lost its essential cultural identity and traditional construction skills, and this can only lead to an “empty-shell” modern society. Thankfully, there are still some contemporary firms making an effort to break the barriers between modern architectural language and Chinese tradition, trying to combine them. Atelier Z+ is one such practice.

Its two principal architects, Zhang Bin and Zhou Wei, were already famous for their delicate and precise architectural drawings while still students in college. Just as Le Corbusier’s modernist formal language was sustained by the influential New York Five, and so impacted contemporary design in the United States, so too Zhang Bin’s academic experience in France was crucial to the pure, filtered, clean modernist approach of Atelier Z+.

The practice is especially well know for two school buildings in Tongji University: Building C, at the College of Architecture and Urban Planning, and the Sino French Center. The two buildings represent the starting point of their architects’ careers when their language was prevalently formal in style. Building C won the design competition among the professors of the College of Architecture and Urban Planning, becoming a landmark in Chinese architectural circles. Apart from its rational, formal logic, it stands out for the materiality and surface texture typical of contemporary French architecture. The stainless steel, wire mesh, U-shaped glass and other materials rarely employed in China give a sense of alienation from its surroundings, lending a somewhat surreal feel to the building similar to what we often see in Jean Nouvel’s work. The Sino French Center, on the other hand, seems to hark back to a traditional Chinese...

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