“I feel blessed and proud as well,” Zhao said on being informed that he would be the new protégé. “It’s a gift, but also a job. It’s an honour, but also a mission.”
Zhao was selected by Sejima after a global search by Rolex and an architectural panel, which identified three of the world’s most promising young architects as finalists. Sejima met the three and then made her choice.
During the mentorship, Zhao will collaborate on Home-for-All, a project created by Sejima and other leading Japanese architects in response to the housing crisis following the devastation caused by the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Home-for-All is providing communal gathering places at temporary housing sites for displaced people. Zhao will join the teams of architects, designers, students and tradesmen who incorporate the wishes of the community when constructing the temporary buildings.
"Yang Zhao puts much care into each of his projects, which are most often located in the outskirts of the city, so that they have a relationship with their context. I look forward to seeing what he would bring to the project in the Tohoku region," Sejima said.
The young Chinese architect, who established his own practice, Zhaoyang Studio, five years ago, expects to gain in many ways from his Rolex mentorship. “My objectives are to experience a challenging and creative collaboration process with Sejima-san, to learn from the design culture in Japan, and to make my contribution to the whole reconstruction project, Home-for-All,” he said.
A firm believer in the notion that architecture must be seen not as a narrow discipline, but in a much wider context – “I would like to avoid thinking about architecture as if there is such a thing as architecture, and then open the practice up to life and circumstances,” he said – Zhao is confident that his approach and that of his mentor have much in common. “She [Kazuyo Sejima] liberates architecture from its material body. Her architecture is informed by and responds to life.”
Zhao, who attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2010, taking a master’s degree with distinction, has received high praise for his work, particularly the Niyang River Visitor Center in Tibet, completed in collaboration with Standardarchitecture, a leading new-generation design firm in Beijing. The project has been acclaimed for the unique way in which it successfully transforms the natural landscape and creates a sense of place. Yang Zhao also won the Beijing-based World Architecture magazine’s 2010 Chinese Architecture Award.
Like the six other current protégés, who have recently begun their mentoring year, Zhao will receive 25,000 Swiss francs to support his participation in the programme, as well as travel and other logistical costs to ensure he obtains maximum benefit. At the conclusion of the mentorship, he will be eligible for an additional 25,000 Swiss francs for the creation of a new work.