Salla Bedard

Lask week, Chinese architect Zhang Ke received the Alvar Aalto Medal—designed by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and founded in 1967—at a jubilee seminar held at the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, Finland—a venue also designed by Aalto. Since its founding 50 years ago, 13 medals have been awarded to architects from around the world, including Aalto himself in 1967; Japanese architect Tadao Ando, Hon. FAIA, in 1985; Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza, Hon. FAIA, in 1988; American architect Steven Holl, FAIA, in 1998; and the Spanish architects Fuensanta Nieto, Hon. FAIA, and Enrique Sobejano, Hon. FAIA, in 2015.

This year, the jury decided to acknowledge the "commitment to humanism in architecture in honor of Alvar Aalto’s legacy" and honor an emerging architect who creates "harmonious relationships between landscape and architecture," the panel wrote in a press statement. Additionally, the panel set forth the four criteria of "creativity in the architecture, sustainable development in its execution, excellence of design, and the ability to place the architecture in a frame of reference that honors Aalto’s legacy."

What highlighted Zhang Ke's work was his respect for the intangible aspects of architecture, including culture, tradition, history, and architectural values. "His designs are coherent at every level from materiality, to approach, to the program, and to understanding of its social aspects. ... He is very creative in working with local material, technique, and crafts," wrote the jury panel in their statement. "[He] integrates landscape elements into his architecture. He incorporates historic elements in his contemporary design thus preserving tradition without nostalgia. His vision is motivated by enjoyment of the user, therefore making it experiential at human scale. His language of architecture is contemporary, but is purposely a quiet presence and does not overwhelm context."

Zhang Ke received a M.Arch. from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (Harvard GSD) in 1998 and founded ZAO/standardarchitecture in 2001. He is also the recipient of various other awards, including a 2016 Aga Khan Award for Architecture, and his works have appeared in many national and international exhibitions. “Micro Hutong Renewal,” for instance, was exhibited last year at the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Since 2016, he has taught various studios at the Harvard GSD.

The Alvar Aalto Medal was presented by the Alvar Aalto Foundation, the Museum of Finnish Architecture, the Finnish Architectural Society, the Finnish Association of Architects SAFA, and the City of Helsinki. This year's jury panel consisted of Japanese architect Toshiko Mori, FAIA, Danish architect Tina Saaby, and Finnish architects Asmo Jaaksi and Vesa Oiva.

Beijing Micro Yuan’er (2014)
Courtesy ZAO/standardarchitecture Beijing Micro Yuan’er (2014)
Tibet Niyang River Visitor Centre  (2010)
Courtesy ZAO/standardarchitecture Tibet Niyang River Visitor Centre (2010)
Tibet Namcha Barwa visitor center (2008)
Courtesy ZAO/standardarchitecture Tibet Namcha Barwa visitor center (2008)
Beijing Micro-Hutong (2013)
Courtesy ZAO/standardarchitecture Beijing Micro-Hutong (2013)
Shanghai Novartis Office Building (2016)
Courtesy ZAO/standardarchitecture Shanghai Novartis Office Building (2016)