Founder of MAD Architect Firm, Ma Yansong, stands against designs symbolic of capitalism and power with bio-architecture
Ma Yansong. A radically different approach to modern architecture
Born in Beijing, Chinese Architect Ma Yansong compared his hometown to New York’s skyscraper and realized a discordance. Disturbed by the cubically boxed buildings clustered together, he worked to defy this way of construction. He observed a global competition for architectural space, height, and density throughout his studies and expressed how this globalized agenda is irrelevant to future architecture.
Ma Yansong founded MAD Architect Firm in 2016, gaining global recognition after winning prestigious awards within the elite realms of architecture. His visions for architecture throughout provinces of China gained support, and at the age of forty, he grew his team by founding MAD Architect Firm. Sourcing a team of creatives, he combined efforts to spread his design methodology globally. Ma Yansong proclaims to ‘easternize the west’. Now, MAD Firm has established offices in Canada, Italy, Japan, France, Netherlands, and Los Angeles, with the presumption of outsourcing in New York.
Ma Yansong’s construction of Nanjing, 34th Street, Greenhouse and Lucas Museum evidences his revolt against striving for architectural sameness with the surrounding buildings. Instead, he assimilates traditions and practices native to his culture to envision architecture that steps away from designs that seem redundant. With a heavy emphasis on understanding fluidity, nature and spirit, Ma Yansong encourages using circular shapes, rounded edges and photosynthetic surfaces. All of which instigates the industrial symbolism of prestige and initiates compensation for the community
Ma Yansong’s efforts have diversified the architectural industry and demonstrated the progression of cross-cultural engagement. From China to the U.S., MAD Architects contemporize buildings by incorporating nature’s gifts of geometry, biology and synergy to create communities in tune with earth.
Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center nearing complete
Observations show MAD Architects erasing boundaries between nature and urban living in Yansong’s 2017 model and construction of the Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center. He shares his journey of manifesting a vision and creating a city-scale structure that supports his theory to involve nature in commercial development to adapt to the environment. In his book, MAD Works, he states that the Nanjing project «will shift the city of future development from the pursuit of material civilization to the pursuit of nature».
Ma Yansong draws inspiration from the lines of the terrain to draw out the blueprint of the buildings. Using nature as a geometric stencil for his work—none of the buildings repeat or rescale in size or shape for their position. The construction works within nature rather than bordering it away.
The Nanjing project injects nature to formulate a nuanced world comprising commercial, hotel, office, and residential programs. As the world arrives to comprehend the environmental changes occurring, Ma Yansong has already taken this vision internationally, leading various projects to near completion.
Rendering New York 34th Street Model
The Highrise 34th Street model proposed by Ma Yansong raised a contrasting vision for the city of New York. Recent reports from MAD Firm suggest the development of 34th Street is an exciting step forward in conceiving an unconventional design that draws attention to the need to see cultural diversity reflected in the formation of architecture.
New York, often described as a melting pot of cultures. New York’s everyday living is notorious for its eclecticism. Yet, the buildings surrounding the culture say otherwise. Ma Yansong questions the infrastructure’s inability to reflect this energy of people within the skyscraper community. He believes the constructions are a product of the Industrial Revolution and suppress the visual potential of the evolved culture.
The construction of ‘East 34th’ is «planted like a seed, sprouting within the grid, rising with a soft, undulating surface that suggests a more organic, living architecture». Critics have stated the building looks out of place within the reality surrounding it. However, Ma Yansong works to encourage designing for a natural context, working with nature rather than around nature to create functionality between the two. He is skeptical of those who perpetuate design for an industrial reality rather than nature’s reality and has gained worldwide attention in justifying his theory. Thus, his proposal of 34th Street to alter the display of the New York skyline.
Greenhouse Lushful Living in Los Angeles
MAD’s completed plans for the Greenhouse located in Los Angeles. The building literally and figuratively connects commercial and residential purposes while embodying Ma Yansong’s motto: cultivating a functioning relationship between matter and environment.
MAD Architect Firm describes Greenhouse as a hillside village that captures the essence of Beverly Hills condensed into eighteen units. Its exterior displays layers of greenery, situating pitched-roofed ‘homes’ at the top and commercials at the bottom, but a living wall divides the spaces. In the center of the building lies a courtyard and private outdoor space for each unit— all create a calm oasis just meters away from the urban environment. Once inside the complex, the intrinsic connection with nature continues.
After speaking to LA real estate agents, many expressed their opinion that the commercial real estate market was depreciating since the pandemic hastened a need for spaces such as Greenhouse. The Greenhouse arrangement serves the rising demand of individuals who desire other aspects of life neighboring their home. The construction permits commercial to coincide with residential, creating convenience for activities that include working, relaxing, and communing intimately within a distance of home. Ma Yansong expresses that this healthy mixture results in a high sense of community and a feeling of individuality and exclusiveness even in this small-scale development.
Lucas Museum of Narrative Art near completion
George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars films, and his wife co-founded Lucas Museum with plans to build a space for people to explore all forms of visual storytelling, including painting, photography, sculpture, illustration, comic art, performance, and video. George Lucas expressed that the Museum’s focus is to open up people’s imaginations and inspire them to dream beyond what is considered possible.
George Lucas brought MAD Firm on board to construct the Lucas Museum for Ma Yansong to lead the transformation of eleven acres in Los Angeles into an infrastructure that infinitely challenges space and time. With Lucas’s philosophical vision, viewers are excited to see how Ma Yansong converts the philosophy into a utilitarianism concept using his ingenuity.
Ma Yansong was inspired to create a building illustrating a cloud. Auspicious to the museum context, a cloud seems symbolic of a childhood memory, lying across the lawn seeking shapes and images within the white-like fog. This act subconsciously engages the very practice both George Lucas and Ma Yansong work to spark in others—igniting imagination within the beauties of nature. This perception of what a cloud means to people aligns with his mission to create a new type of metropolis filled with unknown yet vaguely familiar forms and spaces that are slowly becoming a new reality.
The Lucas Museum seemingly floats in mid-air. By defying gravity, he freed up spaces to insert his signature landscape elements below and above the building. The construction contains state-of-the-art cinematic theaters, learning spaces, restaurants, and retail stores. The day Lucas Museum completes construction will be a day for visitors worldwide to connect with diversified buildings, theories and cultures that uplift the collective.
Beijing architect Ma Yansong is at the forefront of the nuanced building approach to design, formally known as bio-architecture. Through the empaths of his culture, nature and feelings, he shares innovations that challenge notions promoted by the Industrial Revolution to encourage other designers to consider the value of nature when designing for modern societies rooted in technology and consumerism.