The Architect´s Studio. Wang Shu – Amateur Architecture Studio

by | 27. Feb 2017

Exhibitions and Events

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Zhongshan Road Renovation Project, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2009 Iwan Baan

By Catherine Lyager Langer

The Architect´s Studio. Wang Shu – Amateur Architecture Studio is an exhibition at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark, running from February 9th to April 30th 2017. The exhibition is part of an architectural exhibition series, where the architects themselves are invited to, in collaboration with the museum, shape an image of their own practice.

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Ningbo History Museum, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2009 Iwan Baan

Wang Shu and his wife Lu Wenyu started up Amateur Architecture Studio in 1997 in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, capital of the Eastern Zheijang province. Since then, the studio has carried out a number of projects, mainly cultural buildings, including Ningo Contemporary Art Museum (2005), Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art (2007), Five Scattered Houses Project in Ningbo (2006), Ceramic House in Jinhua (2007) and Ningo Tengtou Pavilion at Shanghai Expo (2010).

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Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2007 Iwan Baan

The studio is internationally acclaimed for its manifesto for producing amateur architecture, as a resistance to what Wang Shu himself calls “professionalized, soulless architecture”. In 2012, Wang Shu was awarded the world´s most prestigious architectural award, the Pritzker Prize, for his architectural work.

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Wa Shan Guesthouse, China Academy of Art Xiangshan Campus, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2013 Iwan Baan

The exhibition is located in the lowest floor of the Louisiana museum. Through many different medias; models, material studies, 1:1 constructions, sketches and technical drawings, the exhibition gives the museum guest a comprehensive presentation of the ambitions, processes and inspirations of the architectural studio.

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Models at the exhibition, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2017, Poul Buchard

We should remember that buildings were made for ordinary people. There were no architects in China. There were scholars and artisans. The scholars were wiped out by a century of revolution and only the artisans remain for us to talk to” 
Wang Shu

The exhibition sheds light on the special approach of Wang Shu´s architectural practice, and how he combines a sensitive and poetic approach with high social ambitions with his deep knowledge of traditional crafts and materials – an insight he has learned directly from craftsmen by committing to almost a decade of hands-on building experience.

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Wa Shan Guesthouse, China Academy of Art Xiangshan Campus, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2013 Iwan Baan

The exhibition is divided into three main themes: AMATEUR ARCHITECTURE, ARCHITECTURE AS RESISTANCE and HISTORY RECONSTRUCTED. While the first theme functions as a kind of introduction to the sources of inspiration and fundamental principles of the studio, the second and third theme present studies and shed light on some of the more complicated architecture and building processes of the Amateur Architecture Studio, learning the story behind the acclaimed architectural projects.

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Xiangshan Campus, China Academy of Art, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2013 Iwan Baan

The basis of my practice is working by hand, and I write every day, I practice calligraphy and I draw by hand” 
Wang Shu

The introductory part of the exhibition strongly reflects Wan-Shu´s ongoing concern with the relationship between buildings, landscape and nature and shows the many sources of inspiration that influence his architecture, such as ancient virtues such as calligraphy, garden architecture and the vertical construction of a Chinese landscape painting play a large role in the studio´s architecture.

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Wa Shan Guesthouse, China Academy of Art Xiangshan Campus, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2013, Iwan Baan

During the exhibition it also becomes clear how the work of the studio is of highest social importance today. In the midst of China´s recent building boom, Amateur Architecture Studio makes a big effort to go against the relentless cycle of demolition and new construction by paying strong attention to history and local building and material traditions.

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Fuyang Culture Complex, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2016, Iwan Baan

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Regeneration of the village Wencun, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2016, Iwan Baan

In the second part of the exhibition, ARCHITECTURE AS RESISTANCE, we are given an example of how architecture can function as a strong political statement. As a consequence of China´s explosive urbanization, the country´s rural areas outside the city centers are depopulated, an issue that Wang Shu confronts in two recent projects: A large cultural center, museum and archive in Fuyang and a restoration project in the remote mountain village of Wencun. As a condition for taking on the task of building the cultural center Wang Shu insisted on being granted permission to initiate the smaller Wencun-project outside the city center, as a comment to China´s current urban situation.

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Ningbo History Museum, Amateur Architecture Studio ©2016, Iwan Baan

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Ningbo History Museum, Amateur Architecture Studio ©2016, Iwan Baan

The third theme of the exhibition, HISTORY RECONSTRUCTED, presents the historical knowledge and material consciousness of Amateur Architecture Studio. Featuring a large selection of material fragments in relation to one of the studio´s most acclaimed projects, Ningbo History Museum: machine made tiles, sedimentary rocks and pebbles, ceramic color samples, earth, tiles, bricks and jars.

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Exhibition interior, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2017, Poul Buchard

The exhibition explains how the materials of several destroyed villages in the area, which were demolished to make way for a new building, have been gathered and re-used in the façade of the new history museum, making the building refer back to area´s history.

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Material test, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2017, Poul Buchard

Ruins are the basis of our work; they are the state of things we endlessly confront” 
Wang Shu

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Material test, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2017, Poul Buchard

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Material test, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2017, Poul Buchard

The exhibition itself is weaved into the architecture of Louisiana, with new wood constructions along the existing building elements and large full-height room dividers that emphasize the height and dimensions of the exhibition spaces and cleverly divide the different parts and themes of the exhibition. As a special feature, you can step out onto a bridge that gives you a great overview of the people maneuvering around the collection of material fragments from the Ningbo History Museum below. This makes the exhibition an architectural experience in itself.

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Exhibition interior, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Amateur Architecture Studio © 2017, Poul Buchard

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Amateur Architecture Studio at the exhibition at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. © 2017 Poul Buchard

Overall, the impression of The Architect´s Studio. Wang Shu – Amateur Architecture Studio is of an exhibition that is cleverly and sympathetically executed. While the project stories, informational text and video interviews provide you with a broader understanding of Wang Shu´s architecture in a both regional and global perspective, you are still tangibly surrounded by models, bamboo, materials and building fragments, close enough for you to touch them. Just as the divisions in a Chinese landscape painting, or the dimensions of the exhibition space itself, the exhibition material creates a good balance between getting an overview from above and staying firmly on the ground, close to the physical essence. Both dimensions of the architecture are important inspirations to bring back home.

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