Under tiered crystal chandeliers in Beijing’s vast, colonnaded Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, Chinese architect Wang Shu inclined his head as Thomas Pritzker bestowed on him the red ribbon bearing the bronze Pritzker Prize medallion. The event was charged with cultural and political significance as Chinese dignitaries, including Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and Beijing’s mayor Guo Jinlong, officiated the May 25th ceremony. Wang is the second Chinese-born architect to win the Pritzker, but he's also an advocate for traditional architecture—in some conflict with China's penchant for new, modern projects.
Nothing was left to chance as passports and identity cards were checked and passes issued to a mixed audience of Chinese nationals and foreign visitors. Chairman Mao looked on from his billboard portrait on the Forbidden City walls as the cavalcade of dignitaries and guests alighted from their cars and buses on the steps of the imposing, Soviet-era, ornate, peristyle Great Hall. The event was tightly choreographed, with each speaker timed to the minute in a ceremony lasting barely a half hour. Reported on national television, the brief ceremony was followed by a cocktail reception and a banquet at the Park Hyatt Hotel on Beijing’s 16-lane ceremonial avenue, Jianguomenwai Street.
The choice of China as the 2012 Pritzker venue was made over a year before the prize's vote; the election of a Chinese architect simply coincided with the selection of Beijing. Following the Beijing Olympics of 2008 and Shanghai’s World Expo of 2010, the Pritzker ceremony marked another step in China’s emergence on architecture's world stage. (The choice of China as the 2012 Pritzker venue was made over a year before the vote itself: the election of a Chinese architect simply coincided with the selection of Beijing.)
The rigid formality and gilded decoration encrusting the Soviet-era building contrasted strongly with the more relaxed and authentic spirit of Wang's buildings, which fuse exposed concrete and raw wood with recycled materials salvaged from historic buildings torn down as a result of China's rapid industrialization.