Even as the Chinese economy begins to cool, new design opportunities are being created
Shortlisted for the Moira Gemmill Prize for Emerging Architecture 2016
Di Zhang is one of three partners who make up Beijing-based practice WAA (We Architech Anonymous). It was founded in 2010 after Zhang, Jack Young and Ruben Bergambagt met working at Foster + Partners, cutting their teeth on large-scale projects like Masdar City and the Heathrow Airport expansion. Despite its youth, WAA has a rapidly developing design portfolio ranging from furniture design through to masterplanning.
‘The museum reflects a strong sense of humanity: a prime element of her personal design ideology’
WAA’s design for the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Yinchuan is the practice’s largest built project to date, recently completed in 2015. It stands out not only due to its vast scale, but for its sensitive form and relation to the site’s geographical and cultural context. Designed during a widespread boom in cultural buildings throughout China, MOCA hosts contemporary art from the north-west of the country, and its sweeping white form, sitting close to the Yellow River, commands one’s full attention against the local landscape of lush wetlands. What from a distance appears as a smooth white wave is on closer inspection a stacking of layers inspired by geological forces of sedimentation and erosion.
Source: Iwan Baan
Zhang says the museum – as well as other projects such as the Valley Resort hotel – reflects a strong sense of humanity: a prime element of her personal design ideology. She aims to create projects that have a strong sense of and connection to place, contrasting many projects in China that merely ‘pop up’ and disregard context, heritage and culture.
‘Moca stands out not only due to its vast scale, but for its sensitive form and relation to the site’s geographical and cultural context’
When asked about how she felt as a woman in practice working in China, Zhang says that her accomplishments as an architect have been partially aided by working there. She believes the country is open-minded when it comes to gender equality, giving her the opportunity to work on such large-scale projects as MOCA, although her successes have not come without their own challenges. Zhang had to fight on site to maintain design quality and push for construction innovations unheard of in rural China.
Source: Iwan Baan
She has described herself and the practice as feeling like ‘a small fish in a large pond’ with pressure from more than 1,000 often larger practices in Beijing alone. Even as the Chinese economy begins to cool, new design opportunities are being created, and a statement as strong as MOCA has put WAA on the radar. This, combined with her exacting design standards and determination, makes Zhang an emerging female architect to watch.