How China’s Top Architects Are Changing Perceptions and Winning Global Recognition

No fewer than 22 different Chinese architecture firms receive accolades for their work in last season’s A+Awards.

Paul Keskeys Paul Keskeys

Architizer’s A+Awards, the world’s largest architectural awards program, has become one of the most significant platforms for Chinese architecture firms to gain recognition within their country and increase their visibility around the world. The iconic program is now in its 10th anniversary season, with jurors reviewing submissions that will reveal the next creative forces emerging from across the country.

The Western perception that China is some kind of ‘sleeping giant’ when it comes to architectural design has long since fallen away, with headline-grabbing projects on an extraordinary scale rising in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and beyond. But it’s also notable that the types of projects receiving recognition are changing. A decade ago, China’s megatall commercial skyscrapers dominated coverage in architectural media, but today, cleverly crafted cultural, institutional and residential projects are now catching the eye of a global audience.

Yada Theatre by GOA, Jiangsu, China 9th Annual A+Awards Winner in the Unbuilt Cultural category.

For evidence, one need look no further than last season’s A+Awards, which saw no fewer than 22 different Chinese architecture and design firms receive prestigious accolades for their work. The rising prominence of the A+Awards in China has led Architizer to make the program more accessible to Chinese-speaking firms this season, with the addition of in-built translation on the submission site (simply click the ‘flag’ icon in the top right corner of the site to change languages).

So, how has the architectural profession evolved in China and made it one of the world’s top countries for A+Awards recipients? “The increased arrival of domestic architectural projects [in the A+Awards] reflects that architecture’s value is weaving into the development of public spaces and social environment in China,” said architectural designer Dylon Yang in conversation with the Global Times.

“It is a progress that not only shows that we embrace international design aesthetics, but also a sign of a developed mentality — being able to see the difference between ‘buildings’ and ‘building designs’… designed architecture serves not only as shelter, but carries human responsibilities, preserves culture and community, strives for environmental sustainability, and so forth.”

Left: Yabuli Entrepreneurs’ Congress Center by MAD, 9th Annual A+Awards Winner in the Hall / Theater Category; right: Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum by Studio Zhu Pei, 9th Annual A+Awards Winner in the Museum Category.

This deep understanding of context — both social and environmental — can be seen in the work of many innovative Chinese firms, large and small. And, while some of last season’s winning firms are already very well known — MAD Architects, for example, took home multiple A+Awards — others have used their A+Awards success as a launching pad for major recognition and a greater standing among their competitors.Firms like Studio Zhu Pei — the architects behind the stunning Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum — and META-Project, which produced the tactile HeyTown Art Center in Beijing, are no strangers to success, but last season’s A+Awards saw their work thrown into the global spotlight. These projects are now held up as a creative benchmark — not just for other Chinese cultural centers, but for galleries and museums around the globe.

HeyTown Art Center by META-Project, 9th Annual A+Awards Winner in the Architecture +Metal category.

Perhaps the biggest factor giving rise to Chinese success in the A+Awards lies in the growing trend for firms to prioritize functionality and responsible design over flashy, formal structures. “Chinese architects around me, they have this attentiveness,” architect Wang Mian told the Global Times. “Most times, I hear people always judging a building by its appearance, but good design is far more than its aesthetics; it solves problems. In a true architect’s eyes, there is no such thing as only focusing on big ambitious ideas while neglecting to improve a situation a little bit better.”

The outcome of the 10th Annual A+Awards will be one of the highlights of 2022, and will bring with it plenty of creative surprises. One thing appears certain though — China’s most innovative architecture firms will feature prominently once again.

Architizer is thrilled to announce the winners of the 10th Annual A+Awards. Want to earn global recognition for your projects? Sign up to be notified when the 11th Annual A+Awards program launches. 

Top image: Tea Leaf Market of Zhuguanlong by SUP Atelier, 9th Annual A+Awards Winner in the Architecture +New Materials category.

© Aquidos Arquitectes


Barcelona, Spain

© Ryuichi Ashizawa +Hirokazu Toki + The University of Shiga Prefecture Ashizawa laboratory

DRIFTWOOD HUT PROJECT // Ryuichi Ashizawa +Hirokazu Toki + The Univers ity of Shiga Prefecture Ashizawa laboratory

Okishimacho, Omihachiman, Japan