This Luxury Housing Concept is MAD Architects’ First U.S. Project
Inspiration for MAD Architects’ projects often comes from the natural world: moon, mountain, cave, bubble. Simple words, which barely sum up the scale and complexity of the firm’s work, primarily undertaken in China.
MAD’s founder, architect Ma Yansong, has a kind of preoccupation with nature, but it is neither tree-hugger environmentalism nor scientific biophilia. His interest, spelled out in his 2015 monograph Shanshui City (Lars Müller Publishers), lies in the relationship between humans and nature. He adapted the term shanshui from traditional Chinese painting, extending what translates directly as “mountains and water” into a philosophy that links China’s rapid urbanization (and subsequent push into undeveloped ecosystems) with an aesthetic affinity for picturesque landscapes and organic forms.
The architect’s first building in the U.S. is Gardenhouse, an experiment in luxury housing. With this commission from real estate developer Palisades Capital Partners, Ma brings the Shanshui City concept to Los Angeles. The project’s 18 units finished construction in Beverly Hills this past spring, just before COVID-19 hit California. (A second project in Los Angeles, the Lucas Museum, is scheduled to open in 2021.) Located on Wilshire Boulevard, Gardenhouse is billed as a “mountain village.” “Beverly Hills is where the city meets the mountains,” Ma explains. “We needed to make a building that transitions from those mountains to the flats.”
A tiny township of peaked-roof houses perches atop a mound of greenery—an artificial mountain meant to evoke Los Angeles’s hills. “It’s almost a cartoon,” says Ma, adding that he was struck by the tall hedges that surround L.A. houses, whose foliage conceals all but the rooftops from prying eyes. And yes, the concept is borderline too cute. Still, MAD Architects, with L.A.–based executive architect and landscape architect Gruen Associates and interior designer Rottet Studio, deftly introduced a novel housing type to the city.
Ma mixes known typologies: courtyard apartment building, single-family home, live/work loft, and townhouse. The result is a pricey hybrid that blends city-mouse and country-mouse sensibilities. Marketing materials advertise units starting at $3.7 million to clients who want a pastoral enclave close to the shops.
“Urban life has something that really attracts people,” says Ma. “When I moved to L.A., I lived in a single-family house with a garden. I felt lonely compared to my Beijing apartment. Then I remembered my childhood when I lived in a courtyard house with a shared common space, which had a community feeling.”