Wang
Wang Shu (The Hyatt Foundation)

Wang Shu was selected to receive the 2012 Pritzker Prize, becoming the first Chinese to win architecture's highest honor, the Hyatt Foundation, sponsor of the prize, announced Monday.

Wang's restrained style contrasts with the exuberance of past honorees, such as Frank Gehry, Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas. The Pritzker jury said that his buildings exude a commanding and even, at times, monumental presence, while functioning superbly and creating a calm environment for life and daily activities.

The award comes as Asia and the Middle East builds swaths of skyscrapers, even as the West continues to suffer from a building malaise in the wake of the financial collapse.

“The fact that an architect from China has been selected by the jury, represents a significant step in acknowledging the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals, said Thomas Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, in a statement.

Wang's designs, however, defy the glassy modernism that marks many of China's rapidly growing cities. He favors earthier materials, such as wood and ceramic, using China's history as an inspiration. Instead of skyscrapers, Wang focuses on homes, schools and museums.

Wang was born in 1963 in China's Xinjiang provience, earning degrees in architecture from the Nanjing Institute of Technology. He and his wife, Lu Wenyu, founded Amateur Architecture Studio in 1997.

To me architecture is spontaneous for the simple reason that architecture is a matter of everyday life. When I say that I build a 'house' instead of a 'building', I am thinking of something that is closer to life, everyday life, Wang said in a statement. When I named my studio Amateur Architecture, it was to emphasize the spontaneous and experimental aspects of my work, as opposed to being 'official and monumental.'

In addition to structures, Wang designs abstract art. In a 2006 piece, Tiled Garden, he created an installation from 66,000 tiles from demolition sites.

Wang is a professor and head of the Architecture School at China's Academy of Art in Hangzhou and is also a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

He will receive $100,000 and a bronze medallion. A formal ceremony will be held in Beijing on May 25.

Ningbo
Ningbo History Museum, Ningbo, China. (Lv Hengzhong)

Ceramic
Ceramic House, Jinhua, China. (Lv Hengzhong)

Five
Five Scattered Houses, Ningbo, China (Lang Shuilong)

Vertical
Vertical Courtyard Apartments, Hangzhou, China. (Lu Wenyu)