Here at Nook, we have a passion for people, places, and properties. There is a reason that we say people first, for what makes a neighborhood special if not the people who live there? Welcome to #TastemakerTuesday, where we’ll feature the visionaries in our favorite nooks who are dedicated to building a better community through their talents.
Ma Yansong is the Founder and Principal Partner of a company in China called MAD Architects. That name alone is intriguing.
It was the almost completed Chaoyang Park Plaza that caught my eye at first, and not just because I’ll be visiting Beijing in the future. I’ve read, seen and written about designs meant to evoke nature, to reflect on their elemental surroundings and draw inspiration from them. The stark contrast between photos of Beijing and the 120,000 square feet of both commercial and residential buildings designed to resemble China’s rock formations truly moved me. It opened my mind as to what architecture can do and how it can make me feel in the same way that perhaps people felt at seeing Fallingwater for the first time. The prospect of seeing it in person is more exciting than even the Sagrada Familia or Hardwick Hall (“more glass than wall”), which up until now were the buildings at the top of my list.
On the MAD Architect’s website, they describe Ma’s concept of the “Shanshui City”, which is his vision to create a new balance among society, the city and the environment through new forms of architecture.” The traditional Chinese painting influences much of his work in urban settings, bringing mountains, rivers and waterfalls into cities. Even further, a shanshui city will in effect “treat architecture as landscape.”
This idea seems counter to most of what we understand about Beijing at face value: namely, the smog and industry that quite literally built the city in recent years. As he says in this film on dezeen, his shanshui concepts could aid that unprecedented economic growth in a way that will connect and improve the lives of Beijing’s citizens. "To allow millions of people to live together on limited land, we have to go to the sky; we have to build a high rise. But we can still build nature and social space into the towers. Each family can have their own courtyard in the sky."
Perhaps that is one reason why Ma and MAD Architects have made themselves an international name, most recently with the unveiling of designs for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art (Los Angeles). He became the first Chinese architect to design such a cultural landmark when, in 2014, he was selected as principal designer for the Lucas Museum in Chicago. It seems only fitting that such a visionary filmmaker as Lucas would enshrine his legacy inside a building that strives to capture the past and future so stunningly.
Ma and his design partners don’t even limit their visions for this planet. He designed a collection of furniture for Earth’s eventual colonization of Mars, questioning what memories or feelings about our home planet would be expressed in new extraterrestrial furnishings. True to his own nature, this “Mad Martian” collection of six pieces owes much of its style to the landscape of Mars, and how our Earthly sensibilities could adapt.
For now, we’re lucky to have the mind and influence of Ma Yansong in our world. With such a variety of works, who knows where he’ll land?
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