Chinese architect Wang Shu, praised for creating sustainable urban design in harmony with its surroundings and local cultures, is the latest winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Wang, 49, is the first Chinese architect to receive the prestigious design honour, which comes with a $100,000 US grant and a bronze medal.

"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," Thomas J. Pritzker said in a statement.

"In addition, over the coming decades, China's success at urbanization will be important to China and to the world."

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An exterior view of Ceramic House, designed by Chinese architect Wang Shu, in Jinhua, China. Shu's buildings have been praised for their commanding presence and careful attention to the environment. (Lv Hengzhong/Amateur Architecture Studio/The Hyatt Foundation/Associated Press )

Wang runs the firm Amateur Architecture Studio with his wife, Lu Wenyu, in the city of Hangzhou. He also serves as head of the architecture department at the China Academy of Art and has been featured lecturer around the world, including at Harvard University.

His designs have ranged from modernist high-rise apartment buildings to a university library that appears to float on the water in Suzhou, the Chinese city of gardens and canals dubbed the Venice of the East.

He has earned praise for sensitive design strategies — he orchestrated the salvaging millions of tiles from demolished traditional homes to cover the roofs of newly built campus facilities and he situated a Suzhou building half underground to respect the city's custom of keeping structures between waterways and mountains low in profile.

"China's unprecedented opportunities for urban planning and design will want to be in harmony with both its long and unique traditions of the past and with its future needs for sustainable development," said Pritzker.

"The selection of Wang Shu reflects the jury's view that his work represents that standard of excellence which will be so critical to China's future."

Wang will be formally honoured at a Pritzker Prize gala in Beijing on May 25.