MAD's undulating concrete library "doesn't say too much" says Ma Yansong

In the first instalment of Dezeen's Concrete Icons series produced in collaboration with Holcim, MAD Architects founder Ma Yansong explains how his studio's sinuous concrete library in Haikou, China, encourages visitors to use their imagination.

Yansong is the first participant in Concrete Icons, a video series profiling the most iconic contemporary concrete buildings by the world's leading architects.

The video focusses on MAD's Cloudscape of Haikou, a library with a flowing form cast in white concrete located in a waterside park in Haikou on the island of Hainan.

MAD Architects designed Cloudscape of Haikou, a library in China
MAD Architects designed Cloudscape of Haikou, a library in China. Photo by Aogvision

Completed in 2021, the 1,000-square-metre structure houses a library, cafe, restrooms, showers, a nursery room, and bike storage, as well as acting as a way station for visitors to the park.

Speaking to Dezeen in an exclusive video interview filmed at MAD's offices in Beijing, Yansong explained how the building was designed to put visitors in a contemplative or imaginative state of mind.

"When you design a library, it's important to create a space comfortable for reading, but also you need to create a beautiful atmosphere where people can start their journey or imagination after the reading," he said.

The library was cast in white concrete

Yansong described the way in which the smooth concrete surfaces of the building were unobtrusive, allowing visitors to focus on themselves, the natural environment surrounding the building, and their reading.

"We don't want people to pay attention to the building elements," he said. "So we have to make everything disappear by using a very default, smooth architectural surface."

"It doesn't say too much," he continued. "People will wander and discover more and people will feel more sensitive to the inner side of themselves."

Using concrete allowed MAD to achieve the unusual flowing forms of the building.

"All these architectural elements are continuous," said Yansong. "So the floor, the wall, the ceiling - they all become one undulating surface made out of concrete."

"Concrete is one of those materials that you can make a very complex space [with]."

"It's very strong, but it was a liquid at the beginning. The liquid can be any shape, and that is somehow very consistent with the architecture that we're doing."

CreatAR Images
Cut-outs punctuate the building, offering views of the sea and sky. Photo by CreatAR Images

The building is notable for the large curved cut-outs that punctuate it throughout, offering visitors views of the surrounding landscape, sea and sky.

"We made a lot of holes in this building," said Yansong. "Those holes can provide you with new windows to look out."

"It's a new angle where you can observe the ocean, the sky, the clouds, the nature around you."

The building houses a library, cafe, restrooms, showers, a nursery room, and bike storage

Yansong founded MAD Architects in 2004. Over 20 of the studio's key projects were highlighted in MAD Rhapsody, a book covering 17 years of its work. Dezeen collaborated with the studio earlier this year to host a series of talks on social housing, starting with a conversation with Yansong in which he introduced MAD's first social housing project.

Recent projects by the studio include a stadium in China embedded into the ground and covered in grass roofs and a Beverly Hills residential block with a large green wall.

Concrete Icons is a six-part video series created in partnership with building materials company Holcim. Further instalments in the series will focus on Diller Scofidio + Renfro's Broad Museum in Los Angeles, USA, and Tatiana Bilbao's Casa Ventura in Monterrey, Mexico.

The photography is by Archexist unless stated.

Partnership content

Concrete Icons is produced by Dezeen for Holcim as part of a partnership. Find out more about Dezeen's partnership content here.

Build the icons of the future with Holcim's low-carbon ECOPact concrete, delivering up to 90 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions compared to standard concrete with no compromise on performance.

Find out more about how Holcim works with architects here.