Being under forty and already with such a record in one’s name, crowned by two skyscrapers, the Absolute Towers in Toronto, is uncommon. Curated by Menene Gras and organized by the ICO Foundation and Casa Asia, ‘Ma Yansong. Between Modernity (Global) and Tradition (Local)’ is the Chinese architect’s first exhibition in Spain. Presenting his work through a multitude of materially different models, it has given rise to this comprehensive catalog which goes through his short but fertile career, allowing us a look at his projects through extensive photographs but few plans.
Ma Yansong finished his studies in the United States, where he also worked with Peter Eisenman. Though influenced by western architecture, he has been determined to build from a Chinese perspective, with special emphasis on emotion and on integrating buildings with the surroundings. By emotion we mean the architect’s aversion to economic and urbanistic impositions, materialized in a discourse where users’ feelings come before more pragmatic criteria. On the other hand, his ‘city landscape’ is based on thinking of architecture as landscape, no doubt an offshoot of the Chinese garden tradition. Sometimes this yields lyrical works like the house on a lake in Honghuo or the Huangshan Mountain complex spread over the topography, but at other times his mimicry of natural elements seems rather forced, as in the Fake Hills building in Beihai. But the vigor and ambition of his designs makes him an architect to watch.