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Rendering of the Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort

Ma Yansong

Founder, MAD Architects

Ma Yansong

For building a bridge to nature.

"Modern buildings," says Ma Yansong, one of China's first young breakout architects, "have become memorials to power and capital. More and more, they're isolated from people." His, on the other hand, invite and intrigue. They curve, stretch, and shimmer, somehow looking both natural and otherworldly. Ma attributes this to a central tenet of Chinese architecture, one that remains a defining characteristic of his work: connecting with nature. His latest, the Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, which opened last year, is an instant Chinese landmark that literally rises out of Taiku Lake and produces--with 19,300 programmable LEDs--a nightly light show that reflects off the water. Following wins at international competitions, he's now expanding globally: This year, he's designing an office building in Beverly Hills, California--his first in the U.S.

About that unique hotel

"I see this kind of tunnel in the movies, when people time-travel. You look in this tunnel and see the sky and water on the horizon," Ma says.

Glass: It's the same superclear glass used in Apple Stores. "I wanted it to look transparent."

Curves: The floor-to-ceiling exterior glass in each room is flat, for optimal views (1). Ma creates the hotel's arching shape by curving the balcony railings and balcony glass.

Height: Instead of one row of exterior LED lights on each floor, Ma created two rows (2), making it difficult, from a distance, to determine the building's height (332 feet) and number of floors (27).

Shape: The client initially wanted one tower, but Ma pushed for two that connect at the top. "You can't put a box building in this beautiful landscape," he says. The curves at the bottom hint that the building continues in an unbroken oval beneath the lake. "That's what's interesting about the water. It's mysterious."

Rooms: All 282 guest rooms face out, toward the lake or the land.

Bridge: A bridge, which leads over a canal to the hotel entrance, is curved--mimicking the building itself. "You experience this curve before you're inside," he says.

Top floor: The highest level is an enormous banquet room spanning both towers (3). The width of the building narrows, as if it's pointing to the sky.

Lower level: The lower-level spa, beneath the lobby, is underwater.

[Illustration by Bryan Christie]

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