Made in China: The Green Futurism of Architect Ma Yansong

Published on Spiegel Online international, by Kevin Holden Platt in Beijing, August 22, 2013 (Photo Gallery) – (Linked with our new blog: politics for the 99%).

Chinese architect Ma Yansong has taken the West by storm with his organic, futuristic creations. With proposals to cover Tianenmen Square in thick forest and build a floating city over Ground Zero, no one can accuse him of playing it safe … //

… The Power of Nature:

Ma says that the “machine age” drive to build grid-shaped cities filled with cubic buildings that race each other into the sky — first in the West, and now in China — alienates people from the spirits of nature and from each other. Silo-like skyscrapers, he says, should give way to structures that emulate the forces and forms of nature — clouds, mountains, waves — in cities of the future.

Ma obtained a master’s degree in architecture from Yale University, where he found a mentor in world renowned Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid. Hadid gave him books on contemporary avant-garde sculptors and engaged him in a one-on-one freeform dialogue on the art and architecture of the future. It was in Hadid’s class that Ma proposed memorializing the just-destroyed World Trade Center with a fantastical “Floating City” — a miniature metropolis in the clouds, built atop gigantic pillars, that would feature workspaces surrounded by wildlife gardens.

Despite the September 11 terrorist attacks, “I thought New York was full of hope, and that it deserved something really powerful and futuristic,” Ma says of the Floating City design.

After returning to Beijing to open his MAD studio, Ma responded to an online call to design twin skyscrapers on the outskirts of Montreal in 2005. He took first place — his first win in a global competition — by designing two curved helix-like structures that seem to revolve in mid-air, and that make rectangular skyscrapers nearby seem primitive by comparison.

“Ma Yansong is not just winning competitions,” notes Jeffrey Johnson, who heads the China Megacities Lab at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture. “His Floating City is a very positive utopian vision about creating imaginary futures.”

Role Model and Rebel: … //

… Pritzker on the Horizon?

“If there is one star architect in this generation [in China], Ma Yansong could be it,” says Johnson of Columbia University, who adds that Ma is well-positioned to win the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in the future. “His more radical proposals are visionary, but also critiques,” Johnson adds. “Yet they are also very optimistic proposals about the way to think about the future.”
The Pritzker Prize jury would consider both built and conceptual works, like the provocative Tiananmen Square Forest, while reviewing a potential award.

Ma suggests his plan to remake the symbolic heart of Beijing could have rippling effects across Chinese society. “If this really happened, it would change all of China,” he says. But for the present, he adds, the fate of Beijing’s architectural future, and of Tiananmen Square, is “still ordered from above, not proposed by utopians below.”
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