Icon 168 – Radical landscape. In this issue an exclusive look at Ma Yansong’s Huangshan Mountain Village, interview SANAA’s Ryue Nishizawa, consider the future of human labour and meet the Italian designers reviving traditional craft.
Icon 168: How should architecture meet the challenge of context? In the 21st century we build at breakneck speed and technology allows for breathtaking forms, but how often do the builders of spectacular buildings address urbanistic concerns? Ma Yansong, founder of Beijing-based Mad Architects, sets out how his country should deal with rapacious modernising forces in his manifesto, Shanshui City. It is a poetic, persuasive vision referencing traditional Chinese art and landscape. Ma is in a privileged position. As head of an internationally renowned practice with an impressive roster of clients, he is able to realise his ideas. This month we visit two projects attuned to Ma’s notions of Shanshui.
The word translates literally as ‘mountains and water’, and describes the setting for the practice’s recently completed Huangshan Mountain Village, our cover story this month. On the surface the project, a gated-community of second homes aimed at China’s wealthy elite, does not sound too promising. However, our writer discovered in its fluid, tiered form that recalls stepped rice fields, a building working in harmony with the landscape. In contrast, Chaoyang Park Plaza sits in the heart of Beijing, but presents an equally sinuous form. It is in the execution where the dream can falter, but how much responsibility lies with the architect for the compromises the real world foists upon their design? Should architects like Ma lower their sights?
As the story says, ‘the fall is always harder when starting from a greater height’. One thing is clear: China, a victim in some ways of its own hyper-leap into the 21st century, probably needs to think harder about how it approaches architecture. Mad’s projects are striking, yes, but thoughtful. Maybe it is too late to tame the advance of anonymous global starchitecture, but Ma has fashioned a plausible response.