When it comes to architecture, few countries are as wildly dynamic right now as China. Travel + Leisure once dubbed the nation’s flurry of development as the “biggest building boom in human history, surpassing the creation of the Pyramids and the Great Wall.”
Over the last decade, the blistering pace of development has seldom slowed, as vertiginous skyscrapers rise across mega-cities like Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai, while second-tier cities race to catch up. For many older people, the skylines of today bear virtually no resemblance to the ones of their childhoods.
All the rush for progress and hyper-modernization, however, has not been without its growing pains. As its cities have swelled, China’s divide between urban and rural lifestyles has widened to a chasm. Into this void, the country risks losing ties to cultural traditions and design styles with thousands of years of history behind them.
Bluetown Architects, based in the serene lakeside city of Hangzhou, has proven itself an advocate for forging China’s future while maintaining an eye on its past. Founded in 2014 by Song Weiping, the firm has a more holistic approach to architecture than many of its contemporaries. While most architecture firms are eager to secure their legacies with flashy, attention-grabbing edifices in metropolitan areas, Weiping prefers to create spaces that are genuinely comfortable for the people who call them home.
“In the future, Chinese cities should be shaped by the residents living in them. Architects are too often divorced from reality in their quest to create buildings,” Weiping says. “We dispense with personal heroism and take measures according to local conditions to make life better for residents.”
A desire to shape the future of society for the better was what drew Weiping to architecture in the first place. When he was in high school, he remembers watching a film about an architect’s personal quest to make a positive impact. The concept was so powerful to him that he chose to pursue the field himself at the University of New South Wales in Australia. When he returned to China, he had a clear vision of the kind of mark he wanted to leave on his country.
“I think creativity is incredibly important. Architectural firms must be able to face the challenges of the era with innovative solutions,” Weiping says. “We also must find ways to create more of a balance between China’s cities and its countryside. Finally, I believe that we must remember to pay respect to both the local culture and the local environment.”
For Weiping, that translates to using local materials wherever possible. Part of this has to do with sustainability and cost—transporting pricey imported stone and wood around the world drastically impacts a project’s carbon footprint. It also helps ground each project with a solid sense of place. While many of the luxury developments cropping up around Asia Pacific have a certain generic sameness to them, Bluetown Architects’ designs feel connected to their surroundings.
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