In recent years, China has become the world’s greatest laboratory for architecture, with buildings that look like domes, roller coasters, crumbling cliffs, cruise ships and Slinkys rising across the country. Few, however, look anything like their surroundings or the traditional structures flattened to make way for the construction boom. Wang Shu is the rare architect who has successfully blended China’s quest for novel and eye-catching architecture with respect for traditional aesthetics. The 2012 winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the profession’s highest honor, Wang and his Amateur Architecture Studio have designed buildings that maintain the sensibilities of Chinese courtyards but rework them for settings ranging from apartment buildings to waterfronts. To protest the waste of building materials, which are often dumped in landfills after short-lived structures are demolished, he has made frequent use of recycled materials in works: the Ningbo History Museum and Tiled Garden, an installation at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, was made from 66,000 recycled tiles. In a country where centuries-old structures can disappear in a few short days, Wang is welcome proof that China’s architectural future doesn’t have to discard its past.
Ramzy is TIME‘s correspondent in Beijing
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