The Icon 20/20 Architects: Xu Tiantian 01.05.09

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Songzhuang residence, Beijing

n 2004, while working for OMA in Rotterdam, Xu Tiantian paid a return visit to Shenzhen. "Everything there felt reborn," she says. "I quit my job right away." Xu launched her own firm, Design and Architecture, or DnA. And amid vanity projects and stylistic excess, her approach is the kind that China could use more of.

Her Songzhuang museum (2005-6), on Beijing's edge, is a red modernist gem that lifts the galleries into skylit boxes above a ground-floor common space, drawing more attention to the art inside than to itself.

Despite her West-East education, Xu isn't aiming to redefine Chinese architecture, just to make buildings that work in China. Her style - homing in on public projects and adventurous clients, and getting involved in the error-prone construction process - is guiding her through new commissions like an artists' housing project and a wilderness tourist centre. She laughs at the myth of China as an architects' paradise. "What makes a lot of Chinese architects let go of their dream is they know that their building probably won't be realised in the way you like," she says. "But my dream is still alive."




Adam Laycock



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