Designed to delight (2)

16:04, January 21, 2010      

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"It was a Chinese landscape painting that inspired me. It showed a craggy mountain with bizarre stones and pine tress rising into the sky, with only a temple standing peacefully on the hilly path," Ma says.

"So I chose Chongqing, also a mountain city, as well as China's youngest municipality, where nature is being reincorporated into the high-density urban environment."

The design of the high-rise building has layers of irregularly shaped floors, off-center from one another. A core cylinder runs through up to the sky and connects each level, where its interior is protected by full-length glass windows and a glass-paneled, wrap-around balcony. The patios look like they are floating on top of one another.

The multi-layer building is a sky-garden as well. Enclosing the edge of each level, hundreds of bonsai trees turn the inner space into minimalist, nesting spaces with ample air and light, that naturally filter out UV rays.

"Urban Forest pioneers the making of a sustainable multi-dimensional city," says Bo Xilai, Party secretary of Chongqing Municipal Committee. "It will not be a piece of mediocre urban machinery, but an artificial organ that lives and breathes new life into the steel-and-concrete-filled city center."

Late last year, the design of Urban Forest made its debut at Europalia exhibition in Brussels, one of the leading arts festivals in Europe.

"It is no longer a static icon but an organic form that changes all the time with people's perceptions," Ma says.

The accidental architect

Ma Yansong (pictured), 35, did not always want to be an architect. His passions included painting and film.

He even applied to art school but didn't get in. He was told his fine art skills were poor and that he should look at architecture.

He did worse at the Beijing Film Academy. The judges were clear - he should stick to architecture.

And he did. After graduating from the Beijing University of Engineering and Architecture, he left for the United States in 2000, to further his studies at Yale University.

His Master's project, a floating island, completed in 2002, drew the attention of Zaha Hadid, the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture in its 26-year history.

Ma says his stint in Hadid's office opened his mind.

"There were a lot of projects at that time and we apprentices had to learn very fast," he says. "She (Hadid) gave me a number of contemporary art books and plenty of good advice. Her philosophy of architecture has had a profound impact on me."

In 2004, Ma set up the MAD architectural design firm in Beijing and began making regular appearances at international exhibitions.

But the defining moment came in March 2006 when he won a competition to design a 50-plus-story tower in the city of Mississauga, Ontario, in Canada.

The building is a flamboyantly curvaceous residential complex near Toronto that neighbors have dubbed "the Marilyn Monroe building".

Ma's design was selected over five others by international architects, making him the first Chinese architect to win an overseas competition. It was shown at the 10th Biennial in Venice, three years ago.

Ma's future vision of this nation's capital is captured in Beijing 2050 and includes a green space in Tiananmen Square, a series of floating islands above the city's CBD, and metallic bubbles like that at No 32 Beibingmasi hutong scattered throughout Beijing's oldest neighborhoods.

MAD's projects include the Sinosteel International Plaza, in Tianjin, and the Taichung Convention Center in Taiwan, besides large-scale public complexes and residential housing in Denmark, Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Costa Rica.

Source: China Daily
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