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The Award-Winning Architect Behind the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
For Ma Yansong, the celebrated Beijing-based, Yale University-educated architect and founder of MAD Architects, the cities of the future are not the cold, nature-devoid machine-like worlds imagined in dystopia films like Blade Runner. Rather, for Yansong, 43, the future of architecture incorporates humanity and nature into even the densest cities and environments. He is a big believer in incorporating nature in all his projects while also having them blend in with their landscape.
Plans Revealed for MAD Architects’ Hillside Village in Los Angeles
Many of Yansong’s designs follow his conception of the “Shanshui City,” which is his vision of creating balance among society, the city and the environment through new forms of architecture. Since designing the “Floating Island” in 2002, Ma has been exploring this idea through work that followed.
“My architecture is inspired by traditional culture in the East, but I’m totally against just repeating the old. I think of avant-garde thinking and trying different things,” Yansong told Commercial Observer.
At MAD, Yansong has created a series of imaginative works, including Absolute Towers, Hutong Bubble 32, China Wood Sculpture Museum, Fake Hills and Ordos Museum, which caught George Lucas’ eye and gave him the opportunity to compete for the chance to design a museum to house the filmmaker’s personal art collection. In 2014, Yansong was selected to design the much-anticipated $1.5 billion Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which broke ground in Exposition Park in Los Angeles on March 14 and is expected to open in the latter part of 2021.
In addition to his main residence in Beijing, where he lives with his wife, a professor at Peking University HSBC Business School, and two sons, he has a second residence in the Pacific Palisades on the west side of Los Angeles.
Yansong spoke to CO about how he came to work on the secretive George Lucas project, what he loves about Los Angeles and why he selected it for his first U.S. office and development, an 18-unit, mixed-use project called Gardenhouse at 8600 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, which will be completed later this year.
Commercial Observer: You were born and raised in Beijing, and I understand you originally wanted to go to film school.
Ma Yansong: Yeah. I liked drawing. I was trying to apply to the film academy in Beijing, and then when I applied, they recommended me to architecture school. I didn’t really know what architecture was about.
So, when you were growing up, architecture never crossed your mind until your exams?
No. I didn’t really care what profession. In my mind, college was to have fun. You’re free, you can enjoy.
What were your parents’ backgrounds?
They’re both engineers. My father was an electrical engineer, and my mother was an environmental engineer. My mother visited some villages [around Beijing]. They recycle water, they take care of the pollution. Sometimes I would visit them with her. That experience influenced me a little bit.
Once you started, was it an automatic love?
In middle school, I would just draw whatever you asked on my own…My continued interest in architecture started when I was reading one book about 100 architects and their stories. They were all coming from different countries, different cultures. I remember thinking, That is very fun. It’s different. There’s no right or wrong, it’s more like an art.
Richard Meier was in that book. I saw people like Frank Gehry, and he was doing crazy stuff. They did this show at MOMA in 1998 and they called it deconstructive and for young students, it was really cutting-edge. This was new, and that really impressed me image-wise. In China at that moment, it was very simple—all the schools taught the same thing. This book opened a different world to me. Continue Reading Article >
Chinese Architect and Zaha Hadid Protégé Celebrates the Beauty of Nature in His Urban Designs