Yansong Ma's work extends beyond our cherished Absolute Towers. His engulfing architectural design is recognized worldwide, and he's not even 40 years old. This is part two in a series of his award-winning architectural and art works.
A silver luminescent blob appears in a narrow alleyway of old Beijing. Its amusing shape sits in complete contrast to its ancient surroundings, which are known as traditional Chinese courtyard residences.
The curious, space-age lump is called Hutong Bubble 32, and it lays in Beijing’s hutongs (slim residential alleyways that lead to courtyards) that have been part of Beijing’s history for thousands of years.
But what is it, exactly?
Hutong Bubble 32 is a small station that includes a bathroom and staircase to a roof garden. Amidst the aged, tapering neighbourhoods of Beijing, the bubble serves hutong communities by improving their access to sanitary services.
Yansong Ma, founding principal of MAD Architects, has no qualms with calling it an “alien creature.” The mysterious bubble reflects the surrounding wood, brick and greenery, implying that the past and future can coexist.
Since the mid-20th century, hutongs have been demolished to make way for new roads and buildings. Recently, some have been designated as protected areas for heritage preservation.
“In the courtyards that have survived, there are two situations,” Ma says. “It either looks exactly like it did 30 years ago – no gas, no heating, no toilet – or it has become a huge, newly renovated traditional-looking concrete villa for rich people.”
What influenced Ma to direct this project?
Ma believes the Hutong Bubble 32 makes a statement on rapid development in Beijing affecting the city’s courtyards. Like many of his past and future projects, there is a metaphorical and visual link about the tension between modern and traditional China. Hutongs are culturally important to Beijing; each hutong has its anecdotes and histories, but each faces challenges.
In a first-person account of the surrounding neighbourhood of Hutong Bubble 32, writer Brendan McGetrick reveals that it is an “odd environment, a mixture of pushy SUVs, scrawny cats, tour groups, hanging underwear and putrid toilets.”
Ma hopes that if other bubbles are inserted in Beijing, they will attract “new people, activities, and resources to reactivate entire neighborhoods,” he says.
MAD’s proposal for the future Beijing 2050 was first revealed at its exhibition MAD IN CHINA in Venice during the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale.