Ma Yansong, founder of MAD, the architecture firm, wants to change the way Americans build cities. He has designed everything from residential towers and hotels to museums and opera houses, but his creations all embody the same principal of design and urban planning, and he wants to bring his eastern philosophy of the “Shanshui City” to the West. In this interview with Yansong, conducted by Diana Budds for Fast Company, the architect discusses how he thinks architecture should be implemented into the built environment and our cities.
In his manifesto Shanshui City (Lars Müller, 2015), Yansong writes: "The future development of society demands that we reconsider the relationship between humanity and nature. We must carefully reevaluate our experience of an industrial civilization that forfeited our natural environment. We have to find a new path, one that restores a sense of harmony and balance to our relationship with the natural world."
Yansong believes architects should treat their buildings as works of art, and that a philosophy should be put into each structure instead of just continuing to raise standard buildings. He thinks architects should not talk about power and capital, but instead discuss how buildings are influenced by human nature (like he did with this residential tower planned for Los Angeles). He says:
With towers in large cities, you lose the human scale. We suggest that every three levels within the tower, you have a garden and the elevator can only open on this level so you'll stop there, experience the garden, and then you walk one floor up or one floor down—which is not a big deal—but then you can build a community in a high-rise because now everyone isn't isolated on a single level. In the West, people are already talking about green design and nature, but in very different ways from the East. Sustainability and green architecture is very technical. What I've learned from the Eastern culture is that we look at how nature inspires—it's about beauty or the emotional element of the environment. It's not just to be labeled green.