He studied English at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley.
He later dropped out of school, and made a living out of drawing street portraits and working odd jobs.
They took away laptops and the hard drive from the main computer; along with Ai, police also detained eight staff members and Ai's wife, Lu Qing.
During this period, he gained exposure to the works of Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, and Jasper Johns, and began creating conceptual art by altering readymade objects.
Ai befriended beat poet Allen Ginsberg while living in New York, following a chance meeting at a poetry reading where Ginsberg read out several poems about China.
The building was designed and built by Ai upon encouragement and persuasion from a "high official [from Shanghai]" as part of a new cultural area designated by Shanghai Municipal authorities; Ai would have used it as a studio and to teach architecture courses.
But now Ai has been accused of erecting the structure without the necessary planning permission and a demolition notice has been ordered, even though, Ai said, officials had been extremely enthusiastic, and the entire application and planning process was "under government supervision".
In 1999, Ai moved to Caochangdi, in the northeast of Beijing, and built a studio house – his first architectural project.