What sort of questions would an architect address when it comes to urban public and community architectural design?
Relationship between architecture and nature?
Connection between humans and architecture?
Positioning history in relation to contemporary architecture?
Perhaps all these are among the key issues imperative to modern urban design.
In the exhibition Landscapes in Motion at Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art and City Planning, Ma Yan Song, a contemporary Chinese architect, takes you to explore his answers, along with his 52 innovative projects around the globe.
To Ma, a piece of architecture is an organic being that is perceived by Mother Nature and has the ability to develop emotional and spiritual connections with the local community.
It is embedded in natural and human history, while evolving as human activities progress and prevail in space.
And thus, history, in his projection, often forms a subtle background presented, for example, as a horizon from a cave perspective or curves of the natural landscape that resonates with where we come from.
The present is defined by the material and technology in use.
The future is an adventure of community co-op, uncertain yet fascinating, open to all sorts of possibilities.
Harbin Opera House is such an organic being that is out of contemplation as to whether architecture and nature should have a clear-cut boundary.
Rising from the wetlands, the opera house looks as if it grew naturally from the soil of the ever-changing shorelines washed out by the Song Hua River.
Its dramatic curves, gently rising slope lines, pearlescent aluminium exterior and diamond roof façade mirror the snow-capped mountains under the sunlight from afar.
Harbin Opera House. Image by Rachel Wu/That's
Harbin Opera House with Interior of the Main Performance Hall. Image by Rachel Wu/That's
The interior structure is composed of a series of connected caves wrapped by a wood material common in Northern China.
The equally intriguing curves of the cave-shaping structure form a warm and welcoming space that conceives versatile performing art narratives, despite that it is meant for sound optimization in the first place.
"It is a place not just for art festivals," commented Ma in one of the interviews. "It is a common venue accessible to all residents of the city."
"To interact with the site, simply walk up the exterior stairs then back down to the ground, following its undulating line as if you were hiking in a mountain."
Ma is right that architecture is only alive when people can feel its pulse synchronizing with nature.
Futuristic Communal Space
"An iconic architecture is not a wallpaper. People go there to take a photo with it. That’s it."
Ma expressed his idea as to what counts as an iconic architecture in various interviews.
To him, the core consists of human activities.
People are happy to stay in one place, co-create exciting happenings and develop an emotional connection with it.
It is a reservoir of stories relevant to individual experiences; accessible, approachable and interactive from which architecture and people evolve as time passes.
For an ultra-modern metropolis like Shenzhen, the Shenzhen Bay Cultural Park beholds an ambition to orchestrate a new home of emotional and spiritual connection for all residents and visitors.
This new home is not up in the sky, like those identical skyscrapers in any city competing for yet another higher altitude horizon.
It is right under one’s feet on the ground with an unobstructed sea view up-front.
Shenzhen Bay Cultural Park | Recessed Functional Space. Image by Rachel Wu/That's
In a sense, the cultural park restores the original landscape of the bay in a macro scene composed of giant pebbles in random combinations.
When you take a closer look at the park’s mission embedded in its versatile programmatic functions, these ‘monumental stones’ carry way more profound significance than random pebbles can hold.
Shenzhen Bay Cultural Park | Monumental Stones. Image by Rachel Wu/That's
They form an urban social vibe calling for the co-creation of modern cultural narratives by both artists and residents.
The park will be completed in 2025, and we just can’t wait to see the debut event in this metropolitan ashram.
We will definitely continue to follow exciting happenings in this brand-new communal venue.
Both Clove House Kindergarten in Okazaki, Japan and YueCheng Courtyard Kindergarten in Beijing, are an add-on of the original building where the old structure is preserved and integrated into the new one, rendering history a tangible entity in children’s learning experience.
The owner of the Clove House runs a community kindergarten, hosting children from the vicinity.
Small as it may look, the Clove House attracts young teachers from around the world to stay and become part of the education journey.
Until one day, the kindergarten grew out of its capacity, the owner decided to carry on with the institution in their own family house, adding one more story on top of the existing structure.
Inspired by his big heart, Ma created a comfy cave for the children.
The layout of the new house starts with the traditional wood house.
The straight lines and triangle roof then softened and toned down into curves and winds into an oval cave entrance.
Clove House Kindergarten. Image by Rachel Wu/That's
The slide from level 2 to the ground on the side is a feature well-loved by the children.
The wood spines of the original house, along with the new ones, are exposed inside the house; both the past and the present can be touched and felt.
The family tradition, the owner’s vision for the kindergarten, is hence passed on to the future generations.
Unlike the Clove House Kindergarten, the YueCheng Courtyard Kindergarten in Beijing derives from a preserved historic courtyard house dating back to the Qing Dynasty.
Given the restrictions on renovating cultural heritage, Ma builds an orange orbit for the house, which exists in outer space to bring the two cosmoses together.
YueCheng Courtyard Kindergarten. Image by Rachel Wu/That's
As to the interior, he tears down all the walls between classrooms, replacing them with semi-open compartments to create a free, open space for exploring more possibilities in the learning process.
The orbit becomes a massive playground for the children to engage in outdoor sports and activities.
Having a whole universe to explore and play with, it is not hard to imagine the kind of luxury the children enjoy in this kindergarten,
What to Take Home
If you go into details of each project, from concept to technological specifications, it easily takes you 4 hours in this exhibition, which sprawls an area of over 3,000 square meters.
Graceful freestyle curves prevail in all of Ma’s designs, one trademark of his that is often raised and compared with Zaha Hadid, the renowned architectural genius and also Ma’s mentor at Yale University.
One thing in common is their passion for nurturing emotional connections between humans and a piece of architectural work.
You will see more in the exhibition that such a connection is embedded in Ma’s deliberation on the original natural landscape of the site and how its past impacts the present.
What you may take home is perhaps how the presence of the site is carried into the future by the local community.
Landscape in Motion
Until December 17, 2023
Shenzhen Museum of Contemporary Art and City Planning, No.184 Fuzhong Road, Futian