Journalist Ian Johnson talked extensively to the famous Chinese architect Wu Liangyong, for the New York Times. His wide-ranging interview starts with a notorious debate among architects, where Wu explains why Rem Koolhaas was wrong on Beijing, and why president Xi Jinping supports Wu.
In the public sphere, Mr. Wu represents a traditionalist view of architecture that has been regaining sway in recent years. Most prominently, he criticized many of Beijing’s showpiece structures built for the 2008 Olympics, especially Rem Koolhaas’s headquarters for China Central Television. Mr. Wu said he still believed this was a mistake, and recently Mr. Xi has endorsed this, too, calling for an end to “weird” architecture.
“For Koolhaas, it’s understandable. He wanted to build a masterpiece in Beijing,” Mr. Wu said. “But for Beijing, it was a tragedy. Old cities have to be respected more.”
THESE views have made Mr. Wu controversial among younger architects, said Peter G. Rowe, a professor of architecture at Harvard University. “I think he’s dead wrong about Koolhaas, but we agree to disagree,” Mr. Rowe said.
Mr. Wu’s influence comes from his unofficial position as “grand master,” or dashi, a virtually unassailable position in Chinese society that comes with accomplishment and age. Indeed, younger scholars almost uniformly refused to discuss Mr. Wu because he is seen as so influential in the field, able to promote and derail careers or major projects because of his political connections.
Ian Johnson has a long-standing reputation is giving a voice to some of the important opinion leaders in China. For a list of his latest contributions, check out our list here.