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This year's Pritzker Prize has been announced. It's often called the Nobel of architecture. This year, the prize goes, for the first time, to an architect based in China. He is 49-year-old Wang Shu. Edward Lifson tells us more about him.
EDWARD LIFSON, BYLINE: Wang Shu started to draw when he was just 2 years old. He says he drew on everything - books and the walls of his house in a crowded Beijing alley. Then his family moved away. When he came back a few years later, the neighbors told him: Your drawings are still on the walls. We preserved them.
WANG SHU: Every time when I remember this, my heart feel warm feeling. It really means neighborhood. It means that the common people, they understand art and culture.
LIFSON: Wang Shu says that experience taught him to place a lot of faith in common people, and it made him want to learn more of their wisdom and to give back. So he went to architecture school in Nanjing. It was the 1990s, and China was booming - millions of people moving to cities, and the government was building on a scale and pace never before seen in human history. But Wang Shu was not a part of it.
SHU: So some people say, oh, where is Wang Shu? This guy disappeared.
LIFSON: For nearly 10 years, he worked with traditional craftsmen to see how they put buildings together, and he studied anthropology, philosophy, art history and movies. And then in 1997, with his wife, he founded Amateur Architecture Studio. He says amateur means he works outside the accepted system.
SHU: This system is too strong, almost no possibility to do a good architecture - no possibility.
LIFSON: When he accepted the commission for the Ningbo History Museum, he realized his job was to show people what their city used to look like. It's his masterpiece, says Clifford Pearson, the deputy editor of Architectural Record magazine.
CLIFFORD PEARSON: It's this monumental museum, almost fortress like. And on its exterior, it has almost a collage of masonry work that's really different from anything I've ever seen. It recalls fortresses but done in a very modern way.
LIFSON: Wang Shu designed an art academy using more than two million tiles salvaged from demolished traditional houses. That's in the city of Hangzhou, where Wang Shu lives with his wife, the only partner in his small firm. He hopes winning the Pritzker will influence younger Chinese architects to work within local contexts and slowly, and that it will help China understand it must not demolish history in order to develop. And yet, his childhood home in Beijing, the one with the drawings that the neighbors preserved...
SHU: Our family house, this year, will be demolished. Just now, my uncle is still - insists it's there.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SHU: But I think it will be demolished. For the private people, you don't have the power to stop it.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Wang Shu hopes the house is standing when he receives his Pritzker Prize in May in Beijing. For NPR News, I'm Edward Lifson.