Brutalism, with Chinese Characteristics

HK - Central Mid Levels Escalators (Again) (4)

Honest revelation of tectonics and materiality. The social potential of architectural form. As the world enters an era of mass-urbanization, the primary ambitions of the Brutalist project are more relevant now than ever.

While only architects and masochists could love Brutalism’s eponymous concrete (and let’s see that Venn diagram!), the spatial and social ambitions of the Brutalist movement remain relevant as the world enters an era of mass-urbanization, the first waves of which are most acutely felt in Asia’s megacities. Continue reading

Amateur Architecture: a New Vernacular?

Amateur Architecture: A New Vernacular?

Evan Chakroff | March 11th, 2012

[Note: this essay was originally posted as a feature article on Archinect, March 11th, 2012. The portion on the Ningbo History Museum was originally published in Log #24, Spring 2012]

Wang Shu may be a surprising choice for this year’s Pritzker Prize, but it’s an excellent one, and well-deserved. In recent years the Pritzker Committee has gravitated towards architects who produce work with an innate understanding of place, allowing their ties to local culture to infuse their work. The choice of Wang Shu (and, by extension, of Amateur Architecture and partner Lu Wenyu) continues this trend: his work is as culturally-sensitive and contextually responsive as it is aesthetically stunning.

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Ruins of an Alternate Future: Jinhua Architecture Park

One of the great, if seldom realized, promises of architecture is its capacity to affect change. The best architects seem to have this potential in mind constantly as they structure career-length narratives around the social impact that good design can achieve. While this is often hyperbole, and most projects are driven by functional or economic considerations, there is the occasional opportunity for artists and architects to create purely speculative work, where radical departures from established typologies suggest alternatives to the status quo. In these rare cases, novelty is embraced not for its own sake, but for its potential to generate new archetypes, to provide a glimpse into a parallel world where architecture truly has agency: where design can change society for the better.

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Place-holder: Ningbo Historic Museum

[Wang Shu / Amateur Architecture Studio’s Ningbo Historical Museum, Ningbo, China, 2009. Photos © Evan Chakroff ] [Ed. Note 27 Feb 2012: Congratulations to Wang Shu & Amateur Architecture on the Pritzker Prize Win! Those of you who have found this page via archinect, google, or flickr, please consider subscribing (rss). On this blog I try to bring a critical eye to new (and old) architecture in China (and elsewhere). I hope you’ll find something of interest.]


A few months ago, I took a weekend trip from Shanghai down to Ningbo. The recently completed Hangzhou Bay Bridge (briefly the longest on earth, before it was surpassed by another, elsewhere in China) cuts the travel time down to 2.5 hours (even faster than the new high-speed rail, which connects Shanghai and Ningbo via Hangzhou). I’m constantly amazed by the infrastructure here, which turns the entire Yangtse delta into a huge, networked agglomeration, each city (Ningbo, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Suzhou, and Nanjing) merely a node of this increasingly interconnected organism. It gives me hope, too, than while development speeds ahead in Shanghai, the old-China charms of Suzhou and the natural beauty of Hangzhou won’t be lost in a sea of towers. Continue reading