14 October 2011

Wang Shu

Are you optimistic?

I asked that question of Wang Shu today. If you told me he is the greatest living architect of China at this time I would not argue.

He said no.

I couldn't think of a better question to ask someone from the heart of a world that will be more and more the heart of the entire world. I would not have been surprised by either answer. His presentation was amazing. He was happy to share his vision, sincerity, background, and work with everyone. Together all four told a clear story that confirmed what I could only gather from various anecdotes about the recent history of China. He is a man with such foresight that he left architecture in 1989, after finishing an 80 story building, after seeing what kind of future that meant. Only returning to architecture after many years of philosophy to question what it truly means to be an architect. He made the presentation with such warm and avuncular humor that to hear him say he is optimistic would have been just as believable. The only benefit to his answer was that it saved me the time of asking my follow up questions, now moot. (How would he counter international downward forces on architecture and humanity? With an international counter? An alliance of architects across the globe? Would fighting fire with fire be paradoxical?)

To be serious, briefly, there is one other benefit to his response. After an initial sadness to hear it, I feel a sense of kinship with him and more importantly a pleasant resignation (and confirmation) that the Arts is truly all we have left and whether we want to lead by example or not it ends up on the same path.

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