We work for MAD 特别篇：MAD合伙人访谈之马岩松
We work for MAD Special: MAD Partners Interview – Ma Yansong
从2010年春到2013年夏，我在 MAD 的建筑师岗位上工作三年，这期间以业余爱好的形式做了 gooood，并与MAD的同事开始了 We work for MAD 专辑。至今为止，这个专辑陪伴大家走过8年有余，这八年多来我们分享了形形色色的有趣实习生们的作品与想法，也为大家展现了两位具有代表性的正式团队成员的风采。而MAD的合伙人的生活与工作是怎么样的状态？他们大胆先锋的作品怎么实现从纸面到建筑？他们是如何将成立仅14年，根植于中国大地的MAD打造成一个获得世界认可的国际化明星建筑事务所。他们如何合作？他们如何管理？他们对未来的期许是什么？他们遇到的困难与他们直面而迎的挑战是什么？还有他们最近都在做什么？…….
这一期为大家带来MAD合伙人访谈之马岩松，这是We work for MAD的第78期。
I established gooood, whilst working as an architect at MAD between spring 2010 and summer 2013, as an album of articles We work for MAD. Over the last 4 years we’ve shared a wide range of fascinating ideas and portfolios from the interns at MAD as well the achievements from two of the senior architects there. But what do the partners look like in everyday life? How do the bold and avant-garde designs come to life, from 2D drawings to 3D buildings? What did they do to make MAD, established in Beijing only 11 years ago, to be a world famous architectural office? How do they work together? How do they manage the team and projects? What are their expectations for the future? What are the difficulties and challenges they will have to face? And what have they been doing recently?
NOW, We publish the ‘We work for MAD’ NO.78 – MAD Partners Interview – Ma Yansong
Ling Xiang, gooood founder, chief editor
Any unforgettable moments since MAD was founded?
I guess it’s the day when MAD was founded.
It was April Fool’s day in 2004. I invited some friends to celebrate but was late myself because a car accident (laugh…) All my friends didn’t know each other and they were stuck together in the elevator hall. It was quite awkward but funny. They all thought it was a prank from me.
Why I decided to go back to China was because back then I believed cities in China had various problems. I hoped my practices could possibly be critical solutions. The name of the studio, MAD, refers to madness, which can be also thought as attitude. It’s more about destruction, not that much about construction. The date that MAD was founded, also reminded me that we’re living in a cultural environment that needs criticism. We need to be serious, but not too serious, otherwise we might be stuck as those conventional and professional ones.
Along the time, I was always impressed each time my project got completed, no matter what scale the project was. Like the Absolute Towers, it was sort of surreal back then in Chinese architecture industry. The few years the towers took to complete, was only a flash to me. Winning the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art was also dramatic to me. Even was competing with so many masters, I didn’t have any burdens when coming up with the design, and of course, didn’t think of winning at all. To show my attitude is all that matters. It seemed that I’d been expecting these moments for a long time, but I tried not to take it too seriously.
What is the biggest gain so far?
I think it’s still early to talk about gain. I guess why so many architects love their job is because you can have your works realized, and turn all those surreal ideas into reality that will influence surrounding people and cultural environment. In this way, all realized projects are gains. They can examine your then defined utopia and vision, and how they influence the future after being real.
Other gain is my change in thinking. To me, the whole journey is more about the mental growth. Those immature, or even failed works, did actually paved a way for you, to become a more mature human being. This is inevitable to young people. You must stick to your original intention when you have doubts to yourself.
▼MAD部分作品一览，part of MAD’s projects
I believe that architecture is also a kind of culture, just like movie, music and art are. The discussion in architecture should not be limited to materials or technology only, but also some bigger issues. Architecture is already tightly connected with people’s life, as well as culture and politics. Thus, it must keep its independence to avoid from being subordinated to more powerful domains, such as politics or capital. Architecture must speak for itself, or it will never be truly respected, let alone having an effect to the period we’re living in.
The works of last generation of architects, such as the Metabolism in Japan, the Archigram in Europe, and the later 8 architects of deconstructivism from New York MOMA, are all experimental, theoretical and meanwhile very critical. They rarely talked about topics that are politically right; instead they dedicated to blueprint a new world. The culture they represented back then didn’t lose to any other format of culture. This kind of passion is exactly what we are lack of today, which in some way indicates a setback in architecture. People nowadays talk too much about green architecture, protecting the traditions, and civic architecture, these kinds of politically right topics. However, such discussions could not reveal the true power of architecture. My long-term goal is to show the charm of architecture, which can transform culture and society.
I feel like you are a fighter.
China is in an era of pragmatism, which is influenced by the pattern of development that economy is on top priority. However, culture needs to be accumulated. There is no absolute standards to evaluate culture, and thus it is different to evaluate architecture from how we evaluate science and technology. The architecture industry in China is greatly influenced by the western modernism. In fact, the previous generation who received education overseas barely built our own ideology, instead, they thought too much on how to be a “good student” of the West. That is the problem. Good students are all the same. They don’t think it’s the upmost important to have one’s own voice or different value. In here, one can hardly bear to be a different individual, having a different kind of design, or having different kinds of ideologies. All these will lead to controversy and criticism that people are afraid of.
Modernism was originated from the West, and its influence to the global culture from the first generation of modernism masters has already been conclusive. However, it is still a significant topic to investigate both the localization of those Modernism projects in other parts of the world and the status of the development of Modernism as a theory that has been globally applied. On the other hand, as a country who has a totally different cultural background from the West, Japan was firmly determined to create their own specific contemporary Japanese architecture and to build its own cultural system to feed the west. China is still immature in this regard. It is quite difficult for Chinese architects to break away from their community, and their practice is hard to break away from the mainstream of western architecture. They are more inclined to be approved than to challenge. China is now in an urgent need of a new generation of architects to build their own values to be respected by a larger group of culture.
How did you meet the other two partners and decided to work together? How has your collaboration with them been changed after years of practice?
I don’t have many friends, so whoever can be my friend should be able to be my partner. Back then Yosuke and I often worked late together, had late night dinner and went home after. Sometimes if I did competitions, I’d worked with him after office hour, all the way overnight and came back to work in the morning. One day, I said to him, “ I think there are many problems to deal with in China, and I want to do practice in my own way, to see if can solve any problems. Would you like to join?” At that time, from a cultural perspective, most of the Asian architects were facing a similar circumstance, including those who were from Japan. Dang Qun and I knew each other in an online group of Chinese architects who practiced in America. She once said that China was full of opportunities, while also had a mass of problems, and she wanted to do something. Such a speech was immediately “attacked” by many architects and students of that group. Those people were proud of being in America, just like many intellectuals in China nowadays, wanted to be away form the reality, fearing of the unpredictable problems that they might encounter in China. Wasn’t it ridiculous? Architects are the ones to solve problems and take the initiative to achieve the ideal plan. Soon afterward, many of those who had “laughed at” her went back to China (laughs).
The three of us have a similar vision: we received professional education overseas, but unwilling to accept the fact that the education we received split with the reality. We intended to devote ourselves to architecture. We had never talked about the division of work. It’s quite natural and easy for us to divide. Everyone is the manager of what he or she is good at.
Froup photo of MAD on the roof of the new office
MAD now has a team of 100 people. What is the current structure of the company？Will it continue expanding in the future? What is your plan and vision for the future of MAD?
MAD is more like an institute dedicating to culture research. Our staff is interested in many kinds of discussions. We frequently hold courses on arts and culture, whether it’s modern or classical. I don’t like those “good students,” or those who can’t jump out of their comfort zone but just finish their work simply by experience. I ask each of my staff to keep critical thinking, not only about work, but also on themselves. I never thought about operating my company in a processed, patterned and branded way, no matter it has 20 or 50 or 100 employees. I would like to maintain the environment where everyone is able to think and question on each piece of work, instead of relying on any regulations or “inertia”. I’m more inclined to put my real feelings and emotions of the work in the first place.
▼MAD新办公室，MAD new office
I think there are two types of architects. The first kind is people very self conscious about themselves, like Antony Gaudy, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. I particularly appreciate this type of architects, whose existence itself is already the history of architecture. Frank Gehry once told me that in the early years, he was engaged with cases in a strong traditional California style. However, he was later considered as a master of deconstruction due to his renovation work on his own kitchen. One of his friends said to him: “What you have done to your home is totally different from what you do in your daily work. If you have to work against your will, is it still necessary to do that? ” So the next day he stopped all the work and decided to be true to his own feelings. He said it felt desperately good, like jumping off from a cliff. I think that’s the way it is. You can only be yourself. If your understanding towards something can have a further development through your own works, then that should be something you should stick to. If your thinking is dead, or stops, that’s when everything should end. The other kind of architects knows the way that can be copy-pasted and learned by others. We also need this kind of architects. These two kinds are totally different. But to me, I prefer the one who pays attention to his/her own feelings.
MAD has projects all over the world. What is the difference in your work style when you are working with foreign clients in different countries?
The influence from architecture to people and culture, and the response from people and culture towards architecture, a well as the conversation between them, is what I care about the most.
We have to face different problems no matter working on projects in China or abroad. There are various types of clients. It is not important to me whether the client respects me or prefers to stick to his own way. What I care about is what I could achieve through the project and how to achieve it. That is why I do projects in Europe, in Japan, in the US. It’s because I am curious in different cultures. I find this kind of cultural collision very interesting. When I do the Paris project, I could not help thinking what I could do as a young Chinese architect in this art city, which has influenced China a lot. What can I prove and what can I bring to this city? My client in the US is the creator of the “star war” series, and he represents American mainstream culture. I am curious to know what he thinks of the design by me, a young Asian designer. I am fascinated by this kind of “conversation” between different culture and it could affect me in turn. The Clover House in Japan, it’s a quite small project. The client didn’t raise any requirements, just because he thought I am a famous architect in China and he worried that I wouldn’t take his small-scale project seriously. Exactly that, I was moved and more careful on the project, more sensitive and humble than the client is.
What is the biggest challenge to explore your idea of Shanshui City in China and what could you do to achieve this idea in current situation?
I would like to reintroduce Shanshui City first.
Basically most city development China is based on the modernism from the West, which will make Chinese cities no longer lay emphasis on the good qualities from the traditional urban culture. These good qualities are about nature, emotions, and the people’s deep faith in culture. These are exactly what modern cities nowadays are lack of. However, it is impossible to restore the traditional cities as high density is inevitable in modern city. Then what can we do? The scientist Qian Xuesen once mentioned that he looked forward to seeing a kind of new city, that is on one hand modern, fulfilling all the functional needs, and on the other hand also idyllic. Its focus is more about rebuilding the emotional connection between human and the nature, instead of serving the capital or power. This is also what I believe in. However, many misunderstand that my practice is the only way to reinterpret “Shanshui City”. My practices are quite personal that might influence some people, or even make them have doubts on “Shanshui City.” But I guess nobody will be against the idea that we should not just copy the West.
▼《山水城市》出版物，book of Shanshui City
Then what should we do? This should be something Chinese intellectuals, architects and urban planners to think about. We should decode the gene of traditional Chinese city that is related to the nature both in culture and emotion. It’s quite different how the East and the West treat nature. The West talks about green buildings and sustainability, from the physical level instead of emotional level. They don’t think that human is part of the nature, or the nature is the spiritual extension of human. In this way, I am strongly influenced by the eastern traditional cultural value, which pays much attention to the interpretation of the traditions. I hope my works are not simply connected to the traditional value in visual, but they can somehow show how I understand the traditional value, and put them with imagination for the future.
I prefer to take my practice in Shanshui City as experiment rather than a correct answer. The past decades, China was experiencing rapid urbanization and has made many mistakes. We have to think about what Chinese city could contribute to the world in the future. This is a question to be answered by all of us. In this way, I don’t think it’s a big problem how others take and accept my philosophy and practices. The major difficulty comes from myself: how far the experiment can go, if I am confident in my experiments, etc.
The Chaoyang Park Plaza raised heated discussions and controversy after it’s completed. What do you think of the discussion? Could you tell us something behind the project?
When people are questioning those special things in the city, you should imagine what the city would look like without them. I did not want to build something look like the CBD. To create the contrast between this project and its surrounding urban environment is the most important to me. When Rem Koolhaas designed the CCTV towers, he said the future CBD in China would look similar to the West. All kinds of skyscrapers, glass curtains of all sorts of colors, silver, green, blue… The competing skyscrapers imply the collapse of imagination. Just because he pointed out the key point that the CCTV decided to do something different. People might have different opinions about his works, but what he questioned and foresaw did happen.
During the modernization, China takes highrises as the milestone of internationalization and modernization. I simply disagree with that. When I was asked to design a mixed use next to the Chaoyang Park, what I saw and thought of was nature. I hope the buildings can have conversations with the surrounding natural environment and historic context. Some surrounding buildings are mistakes made decades ago. People accepted these “mistakes,” but I couldn’t. What we need to do now is to correct the mistakes. We cannot just make the new design to be harmonious with the mistakes. Otherwise, we’d just make bigger and further mistakes. In this way, contrast with the surrounding is necessary and inevitable. Wang Mingxian, an architecture critic created a series of paintings. He put contemporary buildings in Beijing into traditional Chinese landscape paintings, like CCTV new tower, Bird Nest and National Grand Theater. All these new buildings in the paintings seem quite awkward. But when Chaoyang Park plaza was added in, it looks quite harmonious in it.
View of the project from Chaoyang Park, creating dialogues between architecture and natural and historic environment
Chaoyang Park Plaza merges into the traditional Chinese landscape painting
There should be an end to the mistakes made from the past, a new start for a new kind of civilization. The transformation and exploration will be very important. From that it will bring in shocks in visual, custom and aesthetic value. If we take the challenge and discussion as the meaning of architecture, it did successfully trigger the public to think and discuss. They began to think if there would be a new angle to understand nature and culture in big cities. Many of my friends, who are pioneers in Chinese culture circle, like this project quite a lot. Maybe we are all facing the same challenge: What will your work mean to the world in the longer future?
Chaoyang Park Plaza becomes a new landmark of the city, encouraging people to think further
How to keep your mind refreshed all the time and fighting hard?
What you should do is to be yourself. You might get influenced by others without knowing it, but that’s only because that changed part is part of your own quality. No matter you’re a writer, an artist or a designer, you need to be yourself. Your creation must be a true reflection of your heart. You need to dig deeper about who you are, be more sensitive about those subtle feelings, and to shield the influences from outside. Only that you can be true to yourself. Some craftsmen in Japan concentrate deeply in their work. All things around them, such as faith, languages, approaches, serve them to be true to themselves. When that level is reached, language for them is no longer for communication nor convincing others, but having conversations with their own inner selves. Only then you can find your true self and the difference from others.
I always believe that we’re living in a moving history, in which everyone has his or her own position. You can’t be too arrogant nor overly worship the history. All that will make you confused about your relationship with the past or future. The view right now I’m looking at, from the central Beijing to the whole Beijing, is layered up histories, as well as transitions happened inside the city. From here, you can see different periods, traditional or modern, all here. You can take your thinking as a spot, and you need to make this spot to have a conversation with the greater history.
What projects are you doing recently? What do you wish to realize the most in the near future?
I just finished a project in an art festival in Japan called Echigo Tsumari Triennale. It has the same founder as the Setouchi Triennale does. It has been held for more than ten years, trying to revitalize the rural villages and the traditional culture there. I participated in a tunnel renovation, where used to be a civic space. The client hoped to transform it into an art space. We introduced the valley and stream into the tunnel through light reflection, creating a surreal connection between in and out. It seems like it’s a passage to have conversations with the nature, from which you can find a new kind of artistic conception.
In the East, water, desert, ocean, or even a piece of stone could be inspiration for artwork. Human and nature in the East are not in a simple binary relation. Nature in the eastern conception is not about the physical trees, grass and flowers. It is a sublimated spiritual experience after emotional thinking processing.
Rural reconstruction is now a hot topic in China, attracting people from outside by design. It is a little different from what Japan is doing. In Japan, designers and artists work together with the rural area to have local traditional art to be reintroduced and reserved. Art is a visual language that could be more powerful and sincere than vast urbanization or renovation. I think China could use it for reference.
Introduce traditional art to outside world through design
Another two projects will be completed within this year in Paris and Los Angeles. Both of them have been going on over three to four years. These two cities own a long history in modern architecture. We hoped in the beginning that this kind of “conversation” with different cultures can bring in a new kind of tradition to the cities. I look forward to how much this goal will be realized.
摄影师 | Photography credits
©Hufton + Crow
©Nacasa & Partners Inc.