MAD wants to "invent a new typology" for
high-rise architecture, says Ma Yansong

| 15 comments

Movie: in this exclusive video interview filmed in Venice, Ma Yansong of Chinese architects MAD explains his concept for a "shan-shui city", a high density urban development inspired by traditional Chinese paintings of mountain ranges.

Visualisation of Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center
Visualisation of MAD's Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center

"A shan-shui city is a modern city, a high density urban situation, but we pay more attention to the environment," Yansong says. "We bring waterfalls, we bring in a lot of trees and gardens. We treat architecture as a landscape."

Visualisation of Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center
Visualisation of MAD's Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center

The concept is based on a traditional style of Chinese painting, which depicts natural scenery such as mountains, rivers and waterfalls.



Shan-shui Chinese oil painting
Shan-shui Chinese oil painting

"Shan shui you can literally translate as 'mountain and water'," says Yansong. "In traditional Chinese culture there are a lot of paintings about shan shui, but now we're talking about a shan-shui city."

Visualisation of Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center
Visualisation of MAD's Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center

MAD is implementing its shan-shui city concept across a number of projects in China, including the Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center development, due to be completed in 2017, which the practice is presenting at this year's Venice Architecture Biennale.

Model of Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center
Model of MAD's Nanjing Zendai Himalayas Center

"The project we're showing here is our new construction in China, the largest project so far for us to experiment with this shan shui city idea," says Yansong. "It's a half-million-square-metre mixed-use urban development."

Visualisation of MAD's Chaoyang Park Plaza development
Visualisation of MAD's Chaoyang Park Plaza development

MAD is also applying the concept in Beijing's central business district with its 120,000-square-metre Chaoyang Park Plaza development, which is due to be completed a year earlier in 2016.

Visualisation of MAD's Chaoyang Park Plaza development
Visualisation of MAD's Chaoyang Park Plaza development

"It's quite typical in China to build at this scale," says Yansong. "But those buildings are very often isolated from the environment and isolated from social life, so we're thinking to use nature as inspiration to bring everything together."

Visualisation of MAD's Chaoyang Park Plaza development
Visualisation of MAD's Chaoyang Park Plaza development

The concept of bringing nature and architecture together isn't a new one, Yansong admits. But he says attempts to do so at such high density and such a large scale are unprecedented.



"After 100 years of modern architectural development people still think the traditional courtyard is the best," he says. "But 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."

Visualisation of MAD's Chaoyang Park Plaza development
Visualisation of MAD's Chaoyang Park Plaza development

He concludes: "I think we're facing a new challenge: how to invent a new typology for high density cities. The shan-shui city idea is trying to bring traditional values and ways of living to modern high-rise architecture."

Ma Yansong of MAD portrait
MAD's Ma Yansong
  • PR machine

    Mediocre, aggressive and nothing new. It’s nothing special. Simply PR work. I am sick of BIG and MAD. They are companies only loved only by first year students!

    • cubert

      Oh wait! BIG+MAD = BAD MIG? Sorry, I’m far away.

  • flytoget

    It amazes me that there’re people that buy this sort of nonsense.

  • james

    So much unsubstantiated hate. What’s the point of pissing all over people who are actually trying to do something?

    • WaxWing

      Speaking as a hater, I would say the vitriol is substantiated! In my opinion the “something” they are trying to do is produce bad architecture, which is going to require an exorbitant amount of time, money, energy, and materials.

      If Ma Yansong was creating a lo-fi noise album that sounded like junk I wouldn’t care, but he happens to be designing potential buildings and cities for people to live in!

  • K

    Then you look at the sections and realise they put two-storey high trees on 50cm slabs, and that the whole concept of mixing nature and architecture isn’t resolved.

    Is putting nice trees in a painting-inspired building section enough to say he “invented” something? Hey, look! I just drew a few rockets under my building. Can I say I just invented a spaceship-building typology?

    The problem here is not whether to invent a new typology that mixes nature and architecture or not, the problem is that they have to study both architectural history and nature before they can claim anything.

  • Mac

    Bit far fetched there Mr. Mad!

  • michael

    In my opinion, this is nothing new. The architecture? It could be, but looks like another Barbican estate in London for rich people. I don’t think it is a new typology. The headline shouldn’t be this one.

  • spadestick

    We’re sorry that architectural “theory” and abstract notions of grotesque concoctions are not primarily evident in MAD’s work, but you must admit that they are of a certain beauty to many people, myself included, and I wish for his work to be built around the world.

    Don’t spread hate or jealousy… Spread the love for good and beautiful things. The ugliness of modernised China needs this, even it is trying to capture a forgotten past, tradition or memory.

    To call this work mediocre or nonsense is simply spiteful. Please compare this to the faux Paris, faux Austria, faux Italy’s and faux Scandinavian towns they’ve built and are continuing to be built. What would you call those then?

    • WaxWing

      It is not hate or jealousy, it’s genuine concern about the future of cities. Despite its density, it is anti-urban! This is Corbusier’s garden city all over again. We found that this type of city doesn’t work.

  • james

    A “hater” offers up a five word dismissal. A critic would think about the work, and offer a thought-out, reasonable, and DEFENDABLE opinion. You can’t get mad when someone calls out a BS “critique” as BS.

  • cJo

    “But those buildings are very often isolated from the environment and isolated from social life, so we’re thinking to use nature as inspiration to bring everything together.”

    And these buildings help? They look bleak, dark, slick. China doesn’t need skyscrapers. There are ways to have density without towers or ridiculous design exercises from MAD et al.

    If Ma wants to help China, the best thing is for him to bow out of his profession. It’s disastrous that China’s cities are relying so heavily on starchitects for their inspiration and direction. I see tons of fancy, high brow designs, but very little substance behind them… unless you count taking inspiration from Mountains to be enough.

  • cJo

    Hear hear!

  • Ralph Kent

    More ghost town buildings by MAD. How’s that music hall in ORDOS working out? Open one day?

  • Scott.

    It looks nice. That’s all I can say.