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Conservatism should not block boundary-pushing design, says Ma Yansong

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There is something very fundamental to this profession. It can channel your hate, your love and all the other universal human emotions.

Conservatism should not be allowed to stifle the creation of beautiful and boundary-pushing buildings, according to MAD Architects principal Ma Yansong.

“We should always be talking about the shape of the buildings around us, and the buildings around us should be more elegant,” he argued in an exclusive interview with CLADmag. “Some people say that the space you create [inside a building] is the most vital part of the architectural experience. While I agree it’s very important, it’s the visual aspect of buildings that is unavoidable. We can’t forget that.”

MAD are known for their eye-catching portfolio of built and unbuilt work featuring dramatic forms – from the mountain-inspired exterior of the Harbin Opera House to the undulating curves of the China Wood Sculpture Museum in Harbin, the horseshoe-shaped Sheraton Hot Springs Hotel in Huzhou, and the forthcoming Xinhee Design Center in Xiamen, which will be shaped like a star.

“Architecture is creating an experience, and I think the experience is like a narrative,” said Ma. “That is something very fundamental to this profession. It can channel your hate, your love and all the other universal human emotions. So being an architect is like you’re an actor, and you control how you want people to feel. For me, creating form is like an acting technique.”

Ma said creating a dialogue with the natural world must now “be the main focus” for architects.

“‘Nature’ in my sense of the word is a cultural thing – it’s more than just thinking about green architecture and sustainability,” he said. “Instead it has a more spiritual and poetic meaning. I’m talking about referencing nature even if there are no trees and there is no grass – and at the current stage I’m actually trying to not put many trees in my buildings. Instead it’s all about the space. What can you see? How does it make you feel? How does the architecture itself make the urban skyline more nature-like?”

“We can learn from nature and then move beyond it. If you look at the ocean, it’s beautiful. But if you live by the ocean you will get tired of it eventually. We have the ability to be inspired by nature, but then create something a little bit different.”

MAD have a number of high-profile projects in the pipeline, including the China Philharmonic Hall in Beijing and the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art – for which they’ve produced two alternative designs for possible sites in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The full interview with Ma Yansong can be read in the new issue of CLADmag, which also features Kengo Kuma, Patrik Schumacher, Tadao Ando and musician and restaurateur Moby.

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Conservatism should not be allowed to stifle the creation of beautiful and boundary- pushing buildings, according to MAD Architects principal Ma Yansong.
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