Absolute Towers
by MAD


Chinese firm MAD has completed a pair of curvaceous twisted skyscrapers in the growing city of Mississauga, Canada (+ slideshow).

Absolute Towers by MAD

Standing at 170 and 150 metres, the Absolute Towers contain apartments on each of their oval-shaped floors, but every storey is incrementally rotated to give both buildings a curved and twisted outline.

Absolute Towers by MAD

"The concept of the tower at the beginning was very simple," said MAD founder Ma Yansong. "We just wanted to make something organic but different, more natural and more soft and not something too strong that would remind people of money or power."

Absolute Towers by MAD

Mississauga first developed as a suburb of Toronto but has grown in recent decades and was named as a city in 1974. Since then, high-rise developments have sprung up across the city and the architects were keen to avoid designing another of these "listless, boxy buildings".

Absolute Towers by MAD

"Lots of cities like this are happening in China, just repeating the modern urban typology and always making square towers," added Yansong. "We were thinking; how about reversing that? "So we don't treat architecture as a product, or an artificial volume or space. It's more like a landscape."

Absolute Towers by MAD

MAD won a competition to design the buildings in 2006, which were initially dubbed "the Marylyn Monroe towers" by local residents in reference to their shapely bodies.

Absolute Towers by MAD

Apartments in both towers boast panoramic views of the city skyline from continuous balconies that wrap around the recessed glass facades. This set-back also helps to shade each apartment from direct sunlight in the summer months.

Absolute Towers by MAD

MAD also recently unveiled plans for a village of towering apartment blocks beside the Huangshan Mountains in China.

Absolute Towers by MAD

See more architecture by MAD, including a museum the firm completed last year in the desert city Ordos.

Absolute Towers by MAD

Above: site plan - click above for larger image

Photography is by Iwan Baan.

Absolute Towers by MAD

Above: typical floor plan - click above for larger image

Here's a project description from MAD:

Absolute towers

We call our cities steel concrete forests.

Throughout the process of urbanization, skyscrapers have been symbols of technological bravado, prime capitals and the societal projections of wealth and prosperity. This limited framework for skyscrapers often results in solutions limited by homogenous, linear structures and degenerative duplication in business districts across the globe. Forced into an unnatural state of conformity, metropolitan life is negatively affected by these unchecked, efficiency-centric development practices. Without a challenge to the status quo, our cities will continue to lack the cohesion of life as implied by the term: forest. A forest is a thriving ecosystem wherein every organism survives only in a state of symbiosis. New ambitions nurtured in a changing global consciousness challenge the aging pattern of last century's development and favor fresh thoughtful, inspiring and eloquent solutions for tomorrow's high-rises.

What lies in the future of our cities? How should one grasp the concept of emerging high-density cities? How can city dwellers be immersed with an enriching experience of nature when its presence steadily diminishes in the face of the ever intensifying concrete inundation? Faced with these challenges, future high-rise buildings need to catalyze a higher level of complexity in our cities for the sake of harmonious civilization.

Fondly dubbed the Marylyn Monroe towers by local residents, the Absolute Towers parallel the twisting fluidity or natural lines found in life. This activation of flow forms an organic punctuation in the landscape and a desire for an urban acknowledgement of enthusiasm. Here, we thrive to challenge the sustenance of commonplace boxy skyscrapers. Our ambition was to provide each resident a unique experience of the city, a heterarchitical distribution. Continuous balconies widen individual viewing angles and promote community at the micro scale of a single floor. At the macro, the cadence of the floors rising into the sky echo the modular rhythms of the human experience, yet emphasizes the movement of an adoring figure. We hope this building can wake up metropolitans’ desires towards nature, such as sun and wind, and certainly, human bodies.

A Crisis of Identity

Like other suburbs in North America, Mississauga, near Toronto, has been quickly developing into an independent, urbanized area. Yet, the cityscape lacked a unique character. In response, we wanted to add something naturalistic, delicate and human in contrast to the backdrop of listless, boxy buildings. Sited at the junction of two main streets (Hurantario and Burnhamthorpe), the Absolute Towers gracefully bear their landmark status and act as a gateway to the city beyond. As a residential landmark that strives for more than simple efficiency, the buildings provide residents an emotional connection to their hometown and neighbors.

Eschewing the tradition of accentuated verticality in high-rises, the Absolute Towers choose not to emphasize vertical lines. Instead, the design features a smooth, unbroken balcony that wraps each floor of the building. In addition, at each successive level, the floor plate rotates in a range of one to eight degrees affording breathtaking panoramas of the Mississauga skyline concluding in reverence to the principle street intersection at its peak. By maximizing the viewing potentials inside and out, creating a wonderful medium for social interaction throughout the balconies, and connecting the city dwellers with naturalistic design principles, Mississauga is infused with a new character.

A New Sustainability

In place of the basic, functional logic of an aging modernism, the current trend of sustainable design is reminiscent of the sudden rise in the glass-faced boxy buildings of last century. Sustainability, in concept, is often unfortunately simplified to the lowest common denominator. If we limit the scope of sustainable ecology to energy savings, it will become merely a demand for comfort while the yearning of a return to nature is ignored. This design practice remains the axiom of the industrial revolution, man controls nature. We feel sustainability is a much greater concept which can guide a new culture of design resulting in real change. For instance, in traditional Chinese gardens, building and nature elements are integrated to create a spiritual and poetic environment fostering great literature, poem and music, or simply life and philosophy. Our approach, ergo, is to create a balanced environment that evokes the feeling of exploring nature while simultaneously a responsive model for the development of urban space in harmony with nature. A sustainable architecture in modern concept. Real sustainability results in a harmonious civilization.

This is the biggest challenge of our time. How do we rebuild urban environments with life and emotion where people are connected and respected?

An Economy of Structure

The torsional form of the towers is underpinned with a surprisingly simply and inexpensive structural solution. The two residential towers are supported by a grid of concrete load bearing walls. The bearing walls extend and contract in response to the sectional fluctuation created by the rotation of the floors while the balconies consist of cantilevered concrete slabs. In order to ensure the elegant edge profiles are as thin as possible, there is a thermal break in the slabs at the exterior glazing such that the insulation need not wrap the entirety of the balconies. Meanwhile, the dynamically fluid shaping of the towers, naturally aerodynamic, adeptly handles wind loading and ensures comfort throughout all the balconies. Besides providing every resident with a nice exterior place to enjoy views of Mississauga, the balconies naturally shade the interior from the summer sun while soaking in the winter sun, reducing air conditioning costs.

Location: Mississauga, Canada
Height: 170 meter
No. of floors: Tower A: 56 stories/170 m
Tower B: 50 stories/150 m

Building Area: 95.000 square meters
Tower A: 45,000 sqm
Tower B: 40.000 sqm
Site area: 4090 square meters
Primary Use: Residential

Client: Fernbrook / Cityzen
Design Architect: MAD architects
Director in Charge: Ma Yansong, Yosuke Hayano, Dang Qun
Design Team: Shen Jun, Robert Groessinger, Florian Pucher, Yi Wenzhen, Hao Yi, Yao Mengyao, Zhao Fan, Liu Yuan, Zhao Wei, Li Kunjuan, Yu Kui, Max Lonnqvist, Eric Spencer

Associate Architects: BURKA Architects INC.
Mechanical Engineer: ECE Group
Electrical Engineer: ECE Group
Landscape Architect: NAK Design
Interior Designer: ESQAPE Design

  • What an incredible building! So unique and soft! It is amazing what we can do now.

  • Dan

    Yes, I think that is merely landscape. Whoever takes a closer look at the typical floor plan obviously will ask right away, how can anybody consider such a cage with closet-size spaces and forced angles as an habitat? And, for sure, pay a ludicrous amount of money for it?

  • Bruno

    The plan of the apartments make no sense. In some the entrance door is in the bathroom. What did the architect have in mind? The spaces are very small. The common areas of the building are almost as big as some bedrooms. The architecture needs to be designed for people. The architecture has to be something more than beautiful.

    • Frank Lloyd Wrong

      They're not perfect but where does the entrance door enter into the bathroom?

  • marco

    It’s not my kind of architecture, but the realisation of the concept is impeccable.

  • Peter

    Great exterior image; horrible interiors.

  • Rob

    Well Done. This is the kind of thing Tom Heatherwick waves his arms around about and promises, but never delivers. MAD have done a great job.

  • Mike

    Awful. Gimmicky. And they don’t need more towers.

  • Dan

    My only suggestion is to look at the floor plans before praising the building. It’ll be very interesting to see a floor plan with furniture. That will give everybody a real idea of the spaces and the living volumes, which should be the main purpose of architecture and makes a difference from a more-or-less crafted formal exercise.

  • anaon

    Would rather see a box.

    • amsam

      No shortage of those.

  • bubble

    Really inconvenient layout of apartments.

  • P

    Looks good on the outside, at the expense of flat layouts which are plain terrible. Typical case of function follows form – the tail is wagging the dog here – for the sake of “looking different”.

  • wall-ing

    Apartment plans are beneath the level of first-grade students of architecture. That makes the whole project look naive and formalistic.

  • The Marilyn Towers! Wonderful.

  • Christian W.

    I think MAD might have taken inspiration from this:

  • Joe

    Meh – I don’t have to live in it. Nicer looking when driving by than a big brown rectangle, that’s for sure.

  • Clud

    The tower has a great design from the outside and I’m really glad that they are building apartments in this area to make the downtown more than a bunch of strip malls and carparks, but like everyone else said, the floorplans are loco!

  • Fling

    Very elegant form indeed, but:

    1) Critical wastage of vertical spaces to accommodate the shifting service ducts and pipes (especially the WC waste pipes).

    2) The practicality and the concept of the peripheral communal balcony is a grand cop-out, if not the grandest cop-out of the year; an old housing concept that’s been debated and tested but failed every time, even with student housing. I fear it will be not only a wasted space but a nuisance to the upper-middle-income occupants, even if the entire floor is taken by members of the same family.

  • Nick B

    That is possibly the most pretentious and tortuous description of a project I have ever read. “Our approach, ergo, is to create a balanced environment that evokes the feeling of exploring nature while simultaneously a responsive model for the development of urban space in harmony with nature”. Really?

    • ph0

      True. Pretentious and naive. Sustainability? MAD talking about sustainable buildings? Architecture as landscape? Give us a break. This is just another example of this office being pure control c control v.

      Seems they go to Zaha’s website to hit control c, then go to their Maya workspace, hit control v and start to throw in some surfaces. Then they go to their marketing guys and ask them to mix a little bit of this with a little bit of that. They just have no idea what they’re talking about. It is just incredible that RIBA grants a fellowship to the director of an office that produces such work.

      And yeah, the towers look really nice from outside.

  • ysc

    “Lots of cities like this are happening in China, just repeating the modern urban typology and always making square towers,” added Yansong. “We were thinking; how about reversing that? So we don’t treat architecture as a product, or an artificial volume or space. It’s more like a landscape.”

    They are just doing exactly the same as those happening in China, a typical form for form’s sake building, with “wow” effect. I guess the people living inside would never realize the plan is “rotated” at all. And its form is not really attractive or stunning. What is the merit of this kind of project? It look really SAD but not MAD.

  • Bryan
  • noyz

    Has anyone noticed that at the higher part of the towers (with 150m and 170m) you have great possibilities of being sucked and blown off by winds when going out to that failure of communal balcony? The plans are MAD! Ten apartments per floor, and living rooms less than 3m wide and full of doors! They have mended this “minor” issue by not drawing furniture to see if they can deceive any possible buyers. Well, you can always look at your flat from the outside and say “what a cool form I live in!”

  • amsam

    Okay, the apartments are tiny, but that brief is set by the developer, not the architect! Come on, obviously MAD would have preferred to put one fabulous deluxe apartment — or even four – per floor. But if the developers did the maths and decided the best way to make their dime back on two towers in godforsaken suburban Toronto was to sell ten tiny closets per floor, be it on their heads, not the project architects. I’m happy that poor Ontario finally has some curves.

  • cl

    Cool stuff, cool stuff.