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When Ma Yansong first registered the name for MAD studio, he didn’t even know for sure if the company would be doing architecture.

Just two years later he and his team were the first Chinese­based architects to ever win a design competition outside of China for the solute Towern Toronto: a twisting, fluid, conception that challenged the unnatural state of conformity often found in metropolia.

The competition projected the young architects to astronomical success and recognition in a very short time. And now, ten years on from winning in Toronto, MAD is a global force in contemporary architecture, known for their avant garde, futuristic designs that harmonize pioneering technology with ancient East pastiche and nature.

Ma’s emphasis on the synergy between human life, and the forces and forms of nature is apparent through all of MAD’s work, often finding stimulus in clouds, mountains and waves. Aiming to create what he describes as an ‘imaginary future’, Ma believes that in cities East and West, repetitive cubic buildings alienate people ‘from the spirits of nature and each other’.

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Much of the influence at MAD comes from a changing China, where everything from art to music is modernising and many feel that the country is losing its identity. As the cityscapes gradually imitate the New Yorks and Chicagos of the world, MAD’s designs are inspired by the wisdom of the past, in an attempt to shape the future.

“Traditional Chinese artists, when they look at nature, they want to use drawing to reflect their own imagination, or their own spirits, or their own understanding of their lives”.

Ma Yansong

Despite often being described as futuristic, Ma says he doesn’t see his work that way, believing that ‘architecture does not only represent abstract thoughts’, it also has a ‘role of confronting public issues, such as population and public spaces’.

“Architecture should provide a constructive resolution for the future” he says.

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And he should know, having been mentored by world famous ‘Queen of Curve’ Dame Zaha Hadid, who sadly, and unexpectedly died earlier this year from a heart attack aged 65. Hadid may have pioneered in questioning the boundaries of architecture, capturing the world with her prodigious, undulating style, but MAD are taking it one step further, and their latest inception ­ the rbin Opera Housn Heilongjiang ­ is no exception. 

Words by Elliot Haworth