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Ma Yansong Rethinks the Boundaries Between Humanity & Urbanity

In his recent TED Talk, Gardenhouse architect and founder of MAD Architects Ma Yansong elaborated on the inspirations and questions that led him to develop what many see as bold and surreal designs. In reality, they are simply a return to nature, corresponding to and mimicking the natural formations of mountains, clouds and volcanoes.

Yansong begins by asking the audience: why are buildings so square? Why do they look the same in cities across the world?

At some point in our history, man-made structures and buildings became highly cubic. City skylines appeared as matchsticks, each building a slight variation of the last. Our living environments became glorified boxes that stood in stark contrast to nature, rigid, symmetrical, built at exacting angles. But nature isn’t so precise, and though we sometimes forget, humans are ultimately a living, breathing part of the overall ecosystem, not exceptions to it.

Thus, Yansong has staked his architectural career on a single idea: how to better blend man-made buildings with nature—visually, spatially and functionally. Instead of using computer models, many of his buildings begin as hand sketches, ultimately retaining as much organic imperfection and nuance as possible in their final as-built form.

Gardenhouse is just one example of Yansong’s approach to rethinking the boundaries between inside and outside—between human spaces and the natural world. In busy urban environments, users and inhabitants inevitably seek escape, because their daily life is all about efficiency, function and structure. But there’s no relief in repetitive cubism, nothing that speaks to the soul. This is why so many yearn for rural and natural recreation, away from the hard spaces and rough soundtrack of cities.

By bringing nature and the built environment in closer alignment, Yansong is speaking to the emotional connection that people have with their spaces. He seeks to improve the soul of human spaces, while also addressing the practical necessities of a comfortable, modern life. Gardenhouse is part of this vision, and is a rare opportunity to experience Yansong’s philosophy first hand.

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