Character building

Updated: 2013-07-25 01:00

By Sun Yuanqing (China Daily)

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Character building

Liyuan Library in Huairou district of Beijing [Photo by Cui Meng/China Daily]

Li made his breakthrough with the design for the Yuhu Elementary School Expansion Project in the UNESCO World Heritage site in Lijiang, Yunnan province, which won the ARASIA Gold Medal, as well as the UNESCO Jury Award for Innovation, an award the jury initiated for this particular project for its "marriage of vernacular and modern approaches".

Like the Yuhu Elementary School project, many of Li's later projects are philanthropic. However, philanthropy is not his primary purpose, it is only a way for him to have his own say, given architecture in China is still not ready for diversity, he says.

"As long as I raise the funds, I will have a say. In China, it's usually the developers who decide what to do. But by doing philanthropic projects, architects can actually do what they really want to do," Li says.

Li doesn't have much patience for the in-your-face designs of Western architects in China.

"They're the curse of our time, a mirror of the lack of confidence across the country. When you are just becoming well off, you know nothing better than to follow the rich. You drink what they drink and drive what they drive. It's the same with architecture."

However, this is only temporary, Li says.

"Just like United States, the White House was designed by a European. But American architects started to come into their own in the 1920s. The same will happen in China if they start to look deeply into their own culture."

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