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Forging a new language rooted in tradition

A focus on four Chinese architects

Studio Pei Zhu | OPEN Architecture | DnA_Design and Architecture | ARCHSTUDIO

Forging a new language rooted in tradition
By Michael Webb -

Turmoil and totalitarianism gave Chinese architects few opportunities to participate in the experimentation of the
20th Century and independent firms have been allowed to practice for barely two decades.

They have to compete with large state institutes and most of the prestigious commissions still go to leading Western architects.

Creatives thrive on constraints, and that may have strengthened the determination of the best talents to find fresh paths. Four small offices in Beijing exemplify the diversity and creativity to be found in the new architecture of China. For this quartet of inventive architects, engaging the users is a goal that shapes every project, large and small.

Though their resources are modest they may, by example, inspire other Chinese architects and clients to follow their lead and develop a new language that draws on a rich legacy as well as Western notions of modernism.



Han Wenqiang founded Archstudio in 2010 and has won acclaim for his transformation of courtyard houses in the hutongs of Beijing, giving them new roles while respecting their integrity. Many of these labyrinthine low-rise residential neighborhoods were swept away as the capital mushroomed; others have been over-restored for tourists. But a few retain their historic character, and the authorities are imposing ever stricter regulations to keep them that way.

Inspired by Wang Shu, the Pritzker laureate, Han employs traditional techniques of construction, often using scavenged materials. And he is skilled in negotiation, persuading city officials to let him reinterpret rather than mimic traditional forms. A few minutes’ walk from the Soviet-inspired vacuity of Tien’anmen Square and its pompous official buildings, is Twisting Courtyard, a three-room guest house located on a raffish alley. Behind the ornate portal is an enclave as tranquil as it is spare....

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