A VISIONARY AHEAD OF HIS TIME
and many others were forced to become farmers. As a young boy, Wang enjoyed working in the fields as it enabled him to feel a connection with the earth. He said that he also found fulfillment in physical labor.
Wang loved reading and had fortuitous access to a range of books censored by the government when his mother was transferred from the fields to become a librarian.
When he was 10, Wang moved to Xi’an of Shaanxi province where he attended lessons in tents instead of classrooms. He later came to witness how the locals would build new classrooms and was fascinated with the bamboo frameworks used in the construction process.
As Wang was passionate about art and engineering, he decided to study architecture in Southeast University because he thought the discipline was a perfect blend of the two. He described himself as a rebellious undergrad who was always ready to challenge professors. Wang even wrote a thesis criticizing modern Chinese architecture.
A keen lover of traditional Chinese art, with a particular interest in ancient gardens and landscape paintings, Wang was eager to incorporate the aesthetics and building techniques of such places in his own creations.
But he was perhaps too ahead of his time, because no one in China’s architecture scene acknowledged or understood his ideas. For several years following his graduation, Wang had no commissions to work on.
Wang said that it was his wife Lu Wenyu who filed the rough edges off his personality. In 1997, the two of them founded the Amateur Architecture Studio. In his new book To Build House, Wang paid tribute to his wife, conceding that “for the first seven years of our married life, it was her who supported me”.
The couple lived an idyllic life in Hangzhou where they would often stroll along the West Lake and had plenty of time to spend sipping tea with friends. Wang said that this calming experience nurtured his heart and in turn evoked a change in his perspective to life.
“You could spend a long time watching the rain, how it falls along the ridges of a building, how the streams flow and where the water drops. All this interests you. You would be thinking if it is possible to design architecture and show clearly where the rain comes from, where it flows, where it goes…each turning and change
One has the opportunity to create something great, something lasting longer than his own life span.”
A view of the roof of the Gongwang Art Museum. The building is part of an arts complex that houses an arts archive and another museum.
The architecture of the Gongwang Art Museum blends traditional Chinese elements with modern aesthetics.