The story appears on

Page P2

July 25, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature » People

Italian architect calls China heaven

ARCHITECT Renato Russi, 48, is a product of the heart of European architecture and has every right to be a romantic when it comes to his craft.

Born near the north Italian city of Venice, renowned as a treasure trove of art and acclaimed as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man," he studied and taught architecture as a young professor at its university.

On Thursday in Shanghai, Russi celebrated his 10th anniversary of setting up business in China, a period when he has designed scores of buildings and urban plans that would not have been possible in his home country.

Russi arrived in Beijing as a tourist in 1999 and became aware of the dire need for architects in China. Up to that point he had done eight projects in Italy, a country, he said, where "there is less need for architecture because the houses are already built ... in Venice you can only design renovations."

After returning in 2000 to work as a consultant with a Chinese company, he did 20 concept designs a month and won a competition to build a residence behind the Forbidden City in Beijing.

In short order, one of his concepts sold out immediately after construction and he won a contract for 11 more residential complexes.

"In the first three years I was going back and forth to Italy and then I moved to Shanghai where I set up a wholly owned foreign enterprise ARR-International," he said. "I thought I had enough maturity and experience, including business lessons, to continue operating in China."

The number of architects he has employed through economic cycles in Shanghai has ranged from 12 to 18 and they're mostly Chinese.

In keeping with the cultural heritage of his homeland, the influence of his late mentor Professor Aldo Rossi, and the breathtaking examples of thousand-year-old ornate buildings that he lived among in Venice, he has developed a strong philosophical base for his work.

"I think of architecture as art," he said. "My projects work with the city, talk with the history of the city, its culture, its signs, its axis, its lights and colors. My projects insist on the meaning of memory, individual and collective, they interpret the signs of the times and make them modern or, better, contemporary."

Yet he cannot practice his craft in Italy with the same level of activity, variety and scope that he has come to expect in China.

"In China there are so many good projects that in Europe you can only dream about," he said.

And the range of projects he has tendered for and had built is impressive.

They include a golf club resort and a large Gennon pharmaceutical company complex in Shanghai's Pudong New Area, a Baosteel building with a residential complex and shopping center, urban plans for Tianjin and Jinan (Shandong Province), and an office building in Nanning (Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region).

He has carved out a significant niche with a series of projects in the wind-energy city of Xilinhot in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, plus he has done other structures in Tianjin, Liuzhou (Guangxi) and Shenzhen (Guangdong Province), as well as a marina-resort in Wuxi (Jiangsu Province),

"The 25-story Bin Hai International building in Hangzhou was my first high-rise. The president of Zhejiang Tobacco Co liked what he saw on its completion in 2007 and commissioned me to design the 33-floor company headquarters in Hangzhou," Russi said.

Agreeing that the current level of construction in China may never finish and there will be work for architects for a long time, Russi said business has become tougher because there are many more Chinese architects.

"But to them, it is not yet culture or poetry, it is only business," said the man who emotes, "I just love architecture."

"Cost is very important in China and developers expect three things: it must be modern, fresh and cheap," he said.

"I say modern is possible because I have never been ancient, I don't know what they mean by fresh because I don't do vegetables, and I don't understand cheap until I get a budget."

Russi had resisted using computers and modern design software until recent years, insisting on drawing everything by hand in his notebook so he can depict a building within the scale of its neighboring environment. He believes computer technology is guilty of a sameness he sees exhibited in buildings around the world.

His eight-year-old daughter Roberta Meili -- "we have only one child, we follow Chinese law" -- has been at school in Shanghai for three years and can speak perfect Chinese.

Russi's anniversary party was held at Levant Art Gallery, 28 Yuyao Road, where "Architecture: Blue Poetry," an exhibition of his best projects, is underway through today.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend