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Landscape: Ma Yansong & the Shanshui City Essay

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Updated: May 21st, 2020


Human landscape has a long history that relates to the cultural, social and even the economic aspects of life since the agrarian revolution. As people became more conscious and concerned about their visible environment, knowledge about the contribution of landscapes on human lives is growing gradually (Cosgrove, 1989).

Geographical studies of the modern era reveal that landscapes are forms of cultural and social constructs, as they possess elements of possible human interventions, environmental aspects, and cultural symbolism (Cosgrove, 1989). In China, architects have really influenced the spatial development and evolution of its modernized cities, which have become an anticipation of many nations.

Contributing to the modern human landscape that involves the contemporary architectural designs, Ma Yansong is one of the Chinese architects who have taken the West by a surprise. Therefore, this essay seeks to analyze the Ma Yansong’s architecrural designs as some of the human landscapes of Chinese creation that are gradually becoming influential in China.

Ma Yansong Landscape

Being in the midst of modernism and very influential on the revolutions as seen in the modern days, Chinese city planning is taking a new form of advanced architectural design. Under Ma Yansong as the founder, the MAD architects of China have played a fundamental role in the modern housing and city planning of the Asian countries, with structures in China and Canada reflecting the MAD designs (Wang, 2013).

As the main founder of the Beijing’s MAD architects, Ma Yansong has gradually become the most influential architect of the new era of building boom in China and other parts of the western nations.

Beginning its influence in Canada after securing an opportunity to design the Absolute Towers in the Mississauga in Canada, Ma Yansong and the MAD architects gained a massive triumph after completing projects assigned to them in Canada (Wang, 2013). Among the famous landscape known to reflect the architectural works of Ma Yansong and the MAD architects is the landscape of the Shanshui city.

The Shanshui City as Ma Yansong’s Landscape

Gradually rising to the anticipation of many Asian cities and mega city planners, Ma Yansong and the MAD architects have recently emerged with innovative techniques that have spurred modern human landscapes in China (Wang, 2013). Ma Yansong’s city, Shanshui City, is one of the exemplary mega cities that have designs that reflect the social and cultural foundations of the Chinese community.

According to Wheeler (2008, p. 400), “a profusion of built landscape types is now contributing to the rapid expansion of metropolitan regions,” and the Shanshui City of Ma Yansong is a replica of such perceptions. Designed and located in Guiyang, Shanshui City is among the most recent projects of MAD architects, which have made the architects to insist on the artistic designs as eminent in the modern China (Wang, 2013).

The realism of Shanshui city presents the human nature and the traditional designs of the Chinese people, which encompass the location of cities strategically to the natural surroundings, which are mainly mountains and water.

Cultural Aspects Eminent in the Shanshui City

Landscaping is an art of modifying features on the land to enhance their aesthetic value and capture human culture and natural environment. Apparently, Chinese historical and architectural art remains bound to this artistic practice (Cosgrove, 1989).

Although it comes with its own uniqueness in the architectural art, the Shanshui city presents an exemplary design envisaged by cultural aspects of the ancient Chinese people (Wang, 2013). Elements of cultural constructs in the Shanshui are what gave the city its name as Shanshui City, a derivation from shan and shui, which means mountains and water respectively.

Shanshui City emerged from the MAD architects as a combination of Chinese urban construction and the symbolism of natural environment that presents the mountain-water traditional worship and reflects the design theory and techniques of the ancient city Chinese (Wang, 2013).

As their long lasting architectural methodology, the conventional Chinese planners designed cities and towns while observing the strategic location of the natural and environmental features that mostly include mountains and water.

The existence of the architectural concept surrounding the Shanshui city dates back to the worship of natural resources like water and mountains where individuals admired the water waves and the conditions of land that affected their residential sites (Wang, 2013).

The Chinese have a long cultural history of having a natural spirit of respecting and appreciating nature, an aspect that motivated Ma Yansong and the MAD architecture team to use the idea of the mountain-water worship to develop the Shanshui city.

As the basic components of the natural environment, water and mountains are essential features in Shanshui design, which follow the Chinese culture and methodology of landscape architecture (Wang, 2013).

The Shanshui city is a modern and unique spatial planning in China with a fitting integration of the landscape and architecture, which comprises of artificial designs water and mountains in the form of ridges that appear in a wavelike manner (MAD Architects, 2012). Such designs relate to the ancient Chinese culture and arts, which many structures in China depict.

Social Aspects Found in the Shanshui City

Human landscapes represent the economic view of nations, as the presence of urban centers with powerful mega cities and commercial buildings normally influences the economic growth of the countries (Wheelers, 2008).

The Shanshui city, although it still serves as a modernized spatial planning with little direct connection with the historical development of the Republic of China, it reflects several social aspects of the Chinese nationals.

Portraying the long-standing history of the Chinese city planning, which involves the concern of the natural habitat in the planning, some of the major social factors connect to the Shanshui metropolis (MAD Architects, 2012).

China has grown gradually as a nation of industrialized towns with the concept of global economic power and international politics forming an important aspect of the greatest public discourse concerning the Asian state.

Cosgrove (1989) postulates that a city landscape represents the national image, as the public properties like streets, parks, roads, houses and other infrastructure remain fitted into the urban system, generally reflecting the national economic power.

As an emergent architectural art of setting up modern cities in China, the element of a national economy that the architects developed through the mountain-water spatial planning typically reflects the Chinese outlook in terms of national wealth (MAD Architects, 2012).

The modernization of the Chinese people begins from human civilization to economic growth, and the buildings and infrastructure of the big cities and the urbanization process is a critical socioeconomic aspect of the Chinese. Shanshui city is gradually becoming an independent city in the parts of Guiyang, a region that has also received substantial national attention in terms of economic development (Wang, 2013).

Developing from a combination of urban mega city planning and the natural environment, an aspect that many Chinese have lived with during the conventional era, Shanshui city is emerging as a modernized Chinese urban city with all forms of aesthetics (MAD Architects, 2012). With its intended industrialization efforts, Shanshui is a town that is inseparable from the notion of economic development in China.

Contrast evident in the Shanshui City landscape

Shanshui City represents the human landscape developed through artificial and architectural designs couple with mountain-water architectural art that gives a certain form of contrast. The contrast that is inherent in the Shanshui city entails the difference between the modernization of spatial planning that is common across the world and the Chinese architecture that contains numerous cultural elements (MAD Architects, 2012).

Shanshui seems like just an imaginative art, idealized through creative processes and not practical art that human beings can imagine. According to Wheeler (2008, p. 413), “if local or regional governments see New Urban form to be desirable, then stronger initiatives appear necessary to bring it into reality.”

The Shanshui proposals and the underway city projects seem impractical to human practice as the art of setting up a metropolis of such a design contrasts the reality of the modern spatial planning and housing designs (Wang, 2013).

When viewed from the most practical manner in the designing of modern cities including the renowned western capitals, the art of Shanshui presents a natural form of landscape rather than the most artificial designs.

Alterations to the cultural designing

Possessing elements of cultural designs, the buildings of emperors reflect Chinese culture. As the Chinese have always designed buildings of the emperors while examining the influence of natural resources on these buildings, the element of alteration is partially unclear, but inherent in the design (Wang, 2013).

Since the buildings carry the original architectural designs, which have not already undergone any form of modern alteration to improve or change their physical appearance, the initial meaning of the mountain-water architectural planning has acquired a different meaning (MAD Architects, 2012).

There is very little continuity of the traditional spatial planning within the Shanshui city, as the new design of Ma Yansong and the MAD architects presents a little connection between the past and the modern structures.

Although the Chinese urban construction has instigated great achievements, Wang (2013) asserts that, “there are problems brought by the rapid expansion of the number and the area of the cities, such as the destruction of historic buildings and the natural ecological deterioration” (para. 2). Despite carrying conventional elements, the designs are dissimilar.


With the rapid industrialization and the growth of modern mega cities, China is also on the verge of such developments, with Ma Yansong and the MAD architects presenting unique designs to the Chinese cities. The Shanshui city project and the proposals made by city planners have demonstrated exemplary spatial planning necessary for the urban development.

Shanshui city landscape has a great connection with the cultural designs and methodology of urban planning that is inherent in the ancient Chinese culture.

The design reflects the traditional practice of Chinese designs that encompasses the location of cities in strategic places in relation to water and mountains, as they are the most precious components of the natural environment. The combination of urban construction and natural environment presents a city of wavy-like tops reflecting ripples of the mountains and water waves.


Cosgrove, D. (1989). Geography is everywhere: Culture and symbolism in Human Landscapes. Hong Kong, China: Barnes & Noble Books.

MAD Architects (2012). . Web.

Wang, S. (2013). Ma Yansong’s ‘Landscape and City/Shanshui City’ Exhibition Freshly Debuts in Beijing Hutong. Web.

Wheeler, S. (2008). The Evolution of Built Landscapes in Metropolitan Regions. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 27(1), 400-416.

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