Ma Yansong on buildings of freedom that rethink our fellowship with nature
by Jincy IypeMar 24, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Zohra KhanPublished on : May 09, 2023
Just as the swiftness of the hand lends a sketch its place on a piece of paper, imprinting the sketcher’s thought in all its truthfulness, buildings and spaces conceived by MAD Architects seem as instinctive and honest. Ma Yansong, the daring visionary who leads the Beijing-based practice, is the brain behind several architectural icons, most of which have been constructed in his native country China. Varying typologies including schools, museums, housing, cultural centres, theatres, airports, and sports facilities, to curious cultures, and eclectic contexts, the Chinese architect continues to scale daring heights. Some of his projects that come to mind are Harbin Opera House, Wormhole Library, and YueCheng Courtyard Kindergarten. Having recently picked the 48-year-old's brain in an intimate conversation (watch here), STIR discovered his passion for realising imaginary cities in nature and what makes his buildings exude freedom. Over 50 projects envisioned under the firm’s 19 years of existence, their newest creation is the design of a high-density mixed-use tower called Qondesa. It is the practice’s first project in South America.
A recurring motif in Yansong’s works, reflective of his box-free approach to architecture, is the way he effortlessly melds built forms with nature. Amorphous walkable roofs, curving vertical gardens, forest-like indoors, and vast green fields generously embrace (and erase) the boundaries between the hard and softscape. Qondesa too aspires to reveal this synergy in its design. It is set to be built in the 16th century city of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The city is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to one of the best preserved and least altered vestiges of Spanish America which includes Virgin of El Panecillo sculpture, ruins of Pucara de Rumicucho, and the vibrant markets and thoroughfares of the Old Town meditating in the warmth of its rich Ecuadorian Sierra culture. With Quito, urban life flourishes in a setting of co-existing contrasts: concrete homes and apartment buildings are seen next to magnificent colonial edifices, plazas, and churches; the city’s past and present collectively bowing to the verdant Andes Mountains in the distance.
Qondesa is anticipated to be the tallest development coming up in the Ecuadorian city. The architecture is imagined as a twisting monochromatic tower illustrated by organic lines and protruding balconies. The stone-looking exterior particularly nods to the historicity of Quito’s Old Town, which feature buildings made using volcanic stone sourced from Pichincha, a stratovolcano whose eastern slopes are engulfed by the city. MAD Architects describes the form as one that grows from the earth to the sky. Intimately scaled apartments nestle the pockets of greenery, creating a living ecosystem, while diverse communal amenities promote social and cultural well-being. Sustainability, a key parameter in the project, weaves an environment-conscious ensemble of effective scale, design, and functionality. The building, as per the design statement, makes use of native vegetation both inside and on its facade, waste management is strategised to begin at the construction stage, and eco-efficient engineering will sculpt an infrastructurally sound structure. More about the design is yet to be announced.
Location-wise, Qondesa will be well connected to the major areas of Quito. Located across the 67-hectare La Carolina public park that links various residential, business, and leisure destinations, the high rise once built is expected to become an important landmark building in the city’s urbanscape. One would also be able to reach Qondesa via the underground Iñaquito metro station.
Against accelerated urban sprawl and intense real estate expansion in peripheral rural and peri-urban areas, the new urban plan for Quito, of which the project is a part, aims to realise a more eco-friendly, diverse, and efficient city. But the question arises how far can these shiny, sky-reaching, “sustainable” additions which claim to have been born from its own soil could go. Are ticking a few right boxes enough?
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