Green Emotion... dream and reality of MAD

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Ma Yansong and his philosophy about city and nature

In the summer issue 2010 of the magazine AWM (Architects Web Magazine), one can read an interview with the founder of the Chinese agency MAD, Ma Yansong.
In the past Chinese architecture had a strong connection with nature and therefore the vision of Ma Yansongs’ agency is, indeed, the integration of nature into architecture.  He does not necessarily see nature as sustainable or ecological, but as a way of life for us to connect with nature. People are as much a part of nature as is flora: "Everything is interconnected."
Thus, Beijing, Yansong suggests, was essentially built with the inclusion of man-made rivers and hills, a natural system with a clearly intended cultural significance. With the high density of urban areas (cities) today, that connection with nature has become more important as one of the city’s foundations affording emotional qualities.
For a competition he redesigned Tiananmen Square (Beijing 2050) from an empty space into a green political center. This appears to be a real political act as well as a welcome biotopical addition to Chinas’ polluted capital.
Ma Yansong is not a green architect; other aspects characterize his designs. His argument that architects should focus more on what users want instead of simply meeting short-term demands of the authorities is encouraging. He puts it succinctly in the last sentence of the interview: You should continue to make proposals, suggestions, the Chinese system is strong.
His interpretation, in particular, of the emotional aspect of integrating nature into the urban environment is something that in Europe is only implied; apparently in Chinese culture it is, therefore, a more sensitive issue.
If we take the viewpoint of the office and look at the (unrealized) projects it becomes apparent that an alienated mix of a flowing expressive language forms and (sometimes) living green which goes with an iconic architecture of a utopian world rather than an attitude which is based on careful use of resources.

Especially the experiment led by MAD in 2008 of a new design center surrounded by nature for the Chinese city of Huaxi which brought a storm of indignant responses on the Internet. The criticism was aimed at the non-integration of nature within the design and spoiling part of the landscape by the bombastic architecture.
The design for a huge skyscraper in the city of Chongqing (2009) clarifies the desire for a green city but is quite naive in the details. How anything green can grow at these heights between the shifted floors is left open. The idea is reminiscent of the Brazilian skyscrapers of stacked villas that were realized with gardens and pools. But the mature trees between the floors of the Chongqing Tower seem more a manifesto than a build-able design.  What we’re waiting for are tangible projects in order to do reality checks.


Translation: Leora Rosner