WAN has been a big supporter of Beijing-based MAD Architects for years, posting details of the young practice’s completed projects and tracking their development as they gain momentum.
We were delighted in 2012 when the MAD Architects team entered our 21 for 21 Award for emerging architects and were selected by an esteemed jury panel as one of the 21 shining stars of the next generation. Director in Charge at MAD Architects Ma Yansong will be passing over to the other side this year and acting as a juror for the 2013 intake of the WAN 21 for 21 Award.
Last week, images emerged of MAD Architects’ latest completed scheme: The China Wood Sculpture Museum. Located in Harbin, the 12,959 sq m museum takes the form of a twisted strip of steel, punctuated with curved windows. The highly-polished metal panels on the exterior are a far cry from the material forms displayed within and some critics have already questioned whether this particular choice of material was appropriate for a museum of this nature. The museum displays local wooden sculptures and paintings of the natural local scenery.
A description from the design team reads thus: “The museum embodies some of the foremost conceptual and formal ideals that define the work of MAD, bringing out an expression and abstraction of nature to an otherwise quotidian surrounding. The boundaries between solid and liquid are blurred throughout this 13,000 sq m building, referencing the local natural scenery and landscape.”
Designed in collaboration with The Architectural Design and Research Institute of Harbin Institute of Technology and Gehry Technologies for panel optimisation, the experience and intellect of this team is clearly top notch. MAD Architects is no stranger to ambitious building design, with previous projects including the bulbous Ordos Art and City Museum in Inner Mongolia, a matte globe of aluminium rings which rises up from its desert location, and the world-famous Absolute Towers in Toronto, two elegant residential towers which have been nicknamed ‘Marilyn Monroe’ by locals for their feminine form.
The radical nature of MAD Architects’ designs means that they are no stranger to constructive commentary from architecture critics and blog readers. A posting of the China Wood Sculpture Museum on Dezeen last week received the following contemplative comments:
Chris: “Kinda conflicted about this [sic]. I think visually it's a nicely sculpted form, and it appears the inside has some very cool spaces. But yeah... a heavily sculpted metal shell for a wood sculpture museum. Hmm. Also, either the site is horrible or the building is doing a horrible job of interfacing with it.”
Kate Austin: “It is beautiful and it is MAD! It does seem strange that they haven't referenced the subject matter of the museum in the design though. The same design in bent wood would have been nice to see.”
MAD Architects argue that their composition creates a relationship where ‘a surreal interaction between the museum and the city breaks through the tedium of the urban shell, revitalizing the surroundings with a new cultural feature’. While critics may argue that the interplay between the new metal volume and its neighbouring buildings stunts the observer’s enjoyment of the form, what the architects are trying to achieve is ‘a new interpretation of nature’.
The selection of materials for the museum may not to be every architect’s taste, but the ambition and drive of MAD Architects remains incontestable.