'shan-shui city' by ma yansong, guiyang, china
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Ma Yansong of Chinese studio MAD is exhibiting architectural models and sculptures in a Beijing courtyard to illustrate his vision for a future city influenced by nature and shaped by human emotion
The exhibition centres around an architectural model of Shanshui City, a new urban development proposed by MAD for Guiyang, China. Inspired by a concept first developed in the 1980s by Chinese scientists, the city is named after the Chinese words for mountains and water and is intended as a model of how cities and their inhabitants can reconnect with the natural world.
In an accompanying book, Ma Yansong explains: “The city of the future development will be shifted from the pursuit of material civilisation to the pursuit of nature. This is what happens after human beings experience industrial civilisation at the expense of the natural environment.”
The Shanshui City exhibition also contains more than 20 models and artworks added to further demonstrate the importance of nature and human emotion in architecture. They include a skyscraper with gardens on every level and a village of apartments blocks in the Huangshan Mountains.
All of the models are nestled amongst bamboo stems, stone walls and pools of water in the Qing Dynasty courtyard garden of the WUHAO design store in Beijing, which houses seasonal installations by young designers and brands.
The pieces on display range from a fish tank to the conceptual model of the “Shanshui City” which represents a proposal of hundreds of thousands of square metres in size. All the pieces exhibited express the sentiment of humans towards nature and depict the “Shanshui City” as the social ideal of the future. The newly issued book “Shanshui City” - released simultaneously with the exhibition - is an important turning point for Ma Yansong’s ten years of architectural practice and theory.
In the book, he says: “The city of the future development will be shifted from the pursuit of material civilisation to the pursuit of nature. This is what happens after human beings experience industrial civilisation at the expense of the natural environment. The emotional harmonious relationship between nature and man will be rebuilt upon the ‘Shanshui City.’” This small brochure illustrates the young Chinese architect’s ideals concerning futuristic habitation. “It would be a great pity if the vigorous urbanisation could not breed new urban civilisation and ideal.”
The famous Chinese scientist Qian Xuesen proposed the concept of “Shanshui City” in the 1980s. In view of the emerging large-scale cement construction, he put forward a new model of urban development based on Chinese Shanshui spirit, which was meant to allow people to “stay out of nature and return to nature.”
Qian Xuesen pointed out that modern cities’ worship of power and capital leads to maximisation and utilitarianism. “Buildings in cities should not become living machines. Even the most powerful technology and tools can never endow the city with a soul.”
To Ma Yansong, Shanshui does not just refer to nature; it is also the individual’s emotional response to the surrounding world. “Shanshui City” is a combination of city density, functionality and the artistic conception of natural landscape. It aims at composing a future city that takes human spirit and emotion at their cores.
For the second consecutive year designboom hosted an architectural conversation during the 2012 beijing design week entitled ‘future cities’
held at UCCA (ullens center for contemporary art) in beijing, china. the speakers for the event included ma yansong (MAD architects),
birgit lohmann (designboom), minsuk cho (mass studies), wang hui (urbanus) and ole bouman (NAi).
ma yansong’s lecture explored the notion of urbanism and preservation posing the question:
what will the city of the future look like?
from his presentation we picked MAD’s projects that investigate on artificial nature,
not in terms of a conflicting idea but with the aim of combining ‘nature’ and high-density structures.
the ‘shan-shui city’ (the city of mountains and water) is one of MAD’s latest projects which will be build in guiyang. it came from a concept which dates back to ancient times of the mountain-water worship, followed by wu zixu’s idea (5th century BC) of locating cities by observing the earth and examining the water, and the emperors’ locating cities on the strategic place of the surrounding natural environment for defense. china has made tremendous achievements on urban construction since the opening reform policy in the 1980s, accompanied with the rapid growth of both the quantity and the size of cities are a series of problems, such as the destruction of historic sites and deterioration of natural environment. a contemporary research on chinese urban planning (initiated in 1987 by wu liangyong) re-introduces the theoretical foundation of ‘human settlement sciences’ — the chinese rocket scientist qian xuesen mentioned ‘shan-shui city’ and wrote a letter to wu liangyong proposing of establishing the concept of shan-shui city by integrating the shan-shui poems, traditional chinese gardens and landscape paintings (qian xuesen’ s ‘theory on urbanology and shan-shui city, 1996).
shan-shui city is one of the unique spatial planning concepts in the china’s history, with implications on urban sustainability. it combines the urban construction and the natural environment which is mainly composed of the mountains (shan) and the water (shui). the tight integration of architecture-landscape-city is the core of the traditional chinese city design theory and methodology (if there is any…).
this ‘spiritual nature of chineseness’ reflects the appreciation of nature, not as a romantic, environmental or anthropomorphic device, but as a symbolic abstraction of reality — the instinctive properties of place and nature.
’emotion in architecture is fundamentally important. how do you touch people’s minds?’, MAD is in tune with the chinese tradition reflected in huang tingjian’s poem on the pavilion of rustling pine trees — architecture is not important, the pine trees are not important, but the emotional serenity engendered by both is what’s important.’ ma yansong