Nature meets skyscraper in Los Angeles

Mad Architect’s concept skyscraper, designed for an exhibition in Los Angeles about future living in the city, has attracted considerable interest for its green design. Frances Marcellin looks at how it improves upon the conventional city block.


Cloud Corridor

The exhibition Shelter: Rethinking How We Live in Los Angeles, currently running at the A+D Museum in LA, is showcasing several architects' responses to the future of the city. The presentations have been designed as a response to the challenges posed by the city's increasing population and residential sprawl, and its escalating economic, congestion and environmental problems.

These issues are the result of rapid urbanisation through the construction of the conventional city block, or the "modernist box", which have also led the city to suffer from a lack of character and soul. In a bid to solve all these problems MAD created Cloud Corridor which corresponds with founder Ma Yansong's vision for a "new ideal for the city of the future".

Cloud Corridor: a vertical village with gardens

Through a complex rethinking of the typological norms, MAD Architects has created a typological alternative called Cloud Corridor, a "high-density vertical village", where the streets have been reoriented vertically. The fostering of community relations is at the centre of its design strategy as it comes complete with public spaces and gardens.

"Cloud Corridor's concept is driven by the vertical flip, which, as an idea, is not new by any means, but proved to be productive for this particular instance," says a MAD spokesperson. "For MAD, reorienting the streets vertically is an attempt to keep a small footprint at ground level, a response to one of the curatorial prompts for 'Shelter' of how to address the decreasing buildable land in Los Angeles."



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Each of Cloud Corridor's floor plates has gardens to accompany residential units. The garden patios and courtyards provide lush, green surroundings and offer a natural retreat from the everyday bustle of the city. Elevated corridors and multi-level garden patios shape the city skyline and provide viewing platforms for residents to overlook activity below and the landscape beyond.

Connecting man and nature

Cloud Corridor embodies the essence of MAD Architects' founder and partner Ma Yansong's Shanshui City philosophy. "Shanshui" is two Chinese characters: shan is a mountain; and shui is water, but it is also described as being the emotional connection between nature and man -- an idealised worldview that integrates the everyday life of humanity with the impulse to seek spiritual refuge in nature.

"The Shanshui worldview assigns a poetic significance to the relationship between man and nature which finds echoes throughout classical Chinese thought," explains Ma Yansong in Shanshui City. "Urban planning is pedestrian and communityfocused.

Architecture is integrated into beautiful environments, no longer hemmed in by congested motorways. Unassuming in character, the buildings of this city do not rely on expensive materials and technology for their appeal. Instead they emphasise the aesthetic mood evoked through the interaction between architecture and environment."

Breaking the barriers of traditional design

As MAD Architects has shown with previous projects, such as the modern redesign of 71 Via Boncompagni in Rome - which saw an "open" building constructed among a road full of "historical façades" in order to "return vitality" to the neighbourhood - the firm is dedicated to finding ways to support and nurture real everyday life and to breaking down the barriers of traditional architecture.

"The Cloud Corridor design challenges the "modernist box" as the typological form for residential towers."

The Cloud Corridor design challenges the "modernist box" as the typological form for residential towers and also the imposing power symbol, which is usually the goal when commercialised modern skyscraper buildings are constructed in our modern world. In order to resemble the adjacent mountains, and evoke its natural surroundings, Cloud Corridor comprises several towers of differing heights.

Instead of a high-rise tower that makes a power statement, Cloud Corridor responds to nature instead. The floor plates comprise of softly curved geometries, versus static, rectilinear geometries and its circulation comes from multiple cores, rather than one single core, and many connective corridors.

"In addition to blurring the boundaries between the city and nature, Shanshui projects such as Via Boncompagni and Cloud Corridor, do focus on the everyday life of residents," says the spokesperson.

"While there is not a formulaic approach to Shanshui City, it is evident that many of the strategies and concepts of Shanshui are articulated in Cloud Corridor. For example, in Cloud Corridor, the corridors connecting the towers provide circulation for a (micro) village to thrive - a contemporary take on modernism's 'streets in the sky' - but unlike modernism's hermetically sealed towers, this circulation network encourages and fosters community. Residents might use these corridors as they recreationally use sidewalks in a traditional neighbourhood."

Transforming the everyday urban experience

Concrete pavements and congested roads usually surround traditional transportation hubs in cities. However, Cloud Corridor's site for Shelter is located above an underground train station and serves as both a public park and transport hub. The podium is covered with grass and trees and gives the impression of rolling hills.

"The site/city block on which Cloud Corridor is proposed will be the future site of an LA Metro Purple Line station," explains a MAD spokesperson. "Therefore, MAD envisions an opportunity to provide a public space - the podium-as-park - to keep the block lively and active, beginning at the ground floor and to the corridors connecting the multiple towers above."



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As this infrastructure merges with nature, conventional residential typology is challenged and people are able to interact with nature as part of their everyday routine, despite living in the heart of a dense city.

The "Shanshui City" of the future

While the Shelter exhibition ends in November, this is just the beginning for Ma Yansong and MAD Architects' quest to invent a new typology for high rise solutions in high density cities.

"The skies of the future are blue and the cities are green. The ideals of ancient civilization have been restored. Cities embody a traditional worldview where humans and nature exist in harmony," he writes in Shanshui City.

"Buildings nestle into natural scenery, accentuating the urban landscape: an office high-rise is more like a mountain than a gleaming tower; terraced residences are punctuated by hanging gardens, cascading waterfalls, bamboo groves, and pools of water; every few floors, trees and open-air communal spaces emerge from the undulating forms of high-rises."