Key Speaker

Ma Yansong

Beijing-born architect Ma Yansong, the founder and principal of MAD Architects, is recognised as an important voice in a new generation of architects. Throughout his work, Ma combines cutting-edge technology with ancient Eastern precepts, and, in so doing, attempts to forge a new balance between society, the city and the environment.

“We call this ‘Shanshui City’, after the classical Chinese aesthetic,” Ma has said. “It’s something that goes against modern architecture and it challenges the utility of modernism, which is now a mainstream idea. We want to connect architecture to nature and create very emotional and spiritual spaces for everyday life.”

Ma began his architecture studies at the Beijing Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture, later completing his Masters degree at Yale University, gaining recognition for his ‘Floating Islands’ project (2002), which envisaged a park ‘floating’ above the site of the former World Trade Centre. After working at Zaha Hadid Architects, Ma founded MAD Architects in 2006, winning the Architectural League of New York's Young Architect Award in the same year as he designed the practice’s breakthrough building, Absolute Towers (2012), twin apartment buildings in Mississauga, Canada, which was named the Best Tall Building in the Americas by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

A series of imaginative works followed: Hutong Bubble 32 (2009) – a metallic ‘bubble’ from an envisioned larger network scattered throughout Beijing’s oldest neighbourhoods was part of a proposal revealed at MAD IN CHINA during the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale; Ordos Museum (2011) navigates “the conflict between the people’s long standing traditions and their dreams of the future’; China Wood Sculpture Museum (2013) is a 200m-long building in Harbin, China covered in polished steel plates; while Fake Hills (2015) is a topography-inspired housing block that runs along the back of an 800-metre-long ocean-side plot. In 2014, Ma was selected as the principal designer for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Chicago.

Parallel to his design practice, Ma has been exploring the cultural values of cities and architecture through domestic and international solo exhibitions, publications and art works. In 2006, he was awarded the Young Architects Award by the Architectural League of New York. In 2008 he was selected as one of the 20 Most Influential Young Architects by ICON magazine. Fast Company respectively named him as one of the 10 Most Creative People in Architecture in 2009 and one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business in 2014. In 2010, he became the first architect from China to receive a RIBA fellowship. In 2014 he was awarded Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum.