A veritable force among China’s new generation of architects, Ma Yansong heads MAD, the Beijing and Los Angeles-based studio he founded in 2004. Imaginative and rule-breaking, his work, which he calls ‘dream architecture’, appears just as impressive in reality as it does in MAD’s renders – a rare feat in today’s world, dominated by digital representation. What’s more, his designs completely redefine what we expect from Chinese architecture today.

Though entirely modern in appearance (at least at first glance), Ma’s buildings draw strongly on his country’s century-old cultural heritage. Urban planning in old Chinese cities such as Nanjing, Suzhou and Beijing, is a particular fascination of his. ‘Old Beijing is very special because it was originally designed as a garden, although this has almost disappeared now as a result of modern influences,’ he explains. ‘Growing up in Beijing, work, study and life were all immersed in this verdant atmosphere, and people were in contact with nature on a daily basis. There was no precise definition between the urban and natural space. My childhood really felt like it took place in an enormous garden.’

Chaoyang Park Plaza, Beijing, China, 2012 - 2017. By MAD Architecture
Smart-hero (HK) Investment Development Limited, Chaoyang Park Plaza, Hong Kong, 2012-2017. Photography: Hufton + Crow

Fuelled by profound experiences such as this, Ma is keen to address the balance between modern city and nature through his work at MAD. ‘It is heartbreaking for me to see this traditional tapestry of urban life fraying in so many Chinese cities, and in some cases, actively being torn apart,’ he adds. For Ma, architecture is about experimentation, but also about ‘its ability to act as a conduit for communicating human emotions and to represent our higher ideals.’ Establishing this new ideal for the city of the future is all about the right balance.§

Ma Yansong
Ma Yansong