Inside the Studio of China’s Rebel Architect

Ma Yansong's hutong bubble (Image via MAD Architects)
Ma Yansong’s hutong bubble (image via MAD Architects)

Ma Yansong is the man behind MAD Architects, a Chinese studio that has made some of the most provocative buildings and structural proposals of the past decade. In a new video profile by Creators Project, Ma speaks to his design philosophy, and we get a sneak peek inside his Beijing studio, a natural, airy space at odds with the city’s chaos.

Ma, 38, was born in Beijing and grew up in a traditional hutong house, one of the low courtyard buildings that fills the center of the city. That childhood experience might explain why even as the architect’s ideas have flown into the stratosphere, he remains concerned with how his architecture houses its users and relates to the them on a human scale. “People shouldn’t have to fit to the architecture,” he says.

The video has Ma showing off some of his already iconic projects, like the Superstar, an enormous, spired star structure that forms a “self-sufficient city” with its own living spaces, schools, and even sewers. The architect memorably describes it as a “mobile Chinatown”: it’s the futuristic equivalent of the Chinese diaspora, contained within a single structure.

Other projects by Ma’s studio include the Absolute Towers near Toronto, a pair of twisting structures that have been nicknamed Marilyn Monroe for their sloping curves, an effect created by rotating each successive floor slightly off center, like a warped slinky. There’s also the iconoclastic Beijing 2050, a series of theoretical proposals that reshape the Chinese capital. In one, Ma fills Tiananmen Square with a forest, and in another, a hutong neighborhood sprouts silver bubbles.

“A straight line has only one possibility,” Ma says. His architecture never follows that straight line — it’s always about double meanings and double purposes, playing with the idea of inhabitable space.

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