Brendan McGetrick
Recent works and current obsessions

MAD Dinner

MAD Dinner (Actar, 2004) is a book that reviews the work of the Beijing-based design studio MAD from 2002-2008.

My editor’s letter:

Eat Up

The Chinese architect is a mysterious figure. Responsible for some of the most distinctive forms in the global catalog, in Chinese history he is almost invisible, undistinguished from the draftsman, woodworker, or builder, considered a minor player in the creation of even its most cherished structures.

Internationally, she is most commonly imagined as either an indistinguishable pixel in China’s frenetic urbanization or as her discipline’s most important practitioner. (And often both at the same time.) She is envied for her productivity and pitied for her repetitiveness. Particularly in Europe and America, her perceived dereliction of social duties – historical preservation, environmental protection, etc. – has become an accepted alibi for entering The World’s Biggest MarketTM.

But, along with so much else in China, the architect’s position is now changing. Through a combination of international recognition and local celebritization, China’s leading architects are gradually raising their profession’s profile and instigating overdue discussions on what an architect is and what architecture can do.

MAD Dinner was organized to further stimulate these conversations and widen the pool of participants. It is a book with no narrative, only areas of inquiry. Initiated by the Beijing office MAD, it presents their work as a contribution to an ongoing dialogue between the architect and his/her many participants. Five themes structure the book and provide commentary on the conditions in which MAD operates. “MAD in China” describes the freedoms and limitations of participating in the fastest urbanization in world history. “Be Political or Be Polite” searches for ways to enact change in China’s non-participatory political landscape. “I ♥ Nature” questions the opposition between human progress and environmental protection. “Almost Famous” examines the role of popular media in establishing cultural figures and the link between architecture and art. “Realizable Utopia” explores China’s fragmented idealism and the value of imagining the future amidst short-sighted, free market realities.

Self-censorship has been liberally and willfully applied to remove the toxic mixture of narcissism and obsessive-compulsive disorder that taints the typical self-made architectural tome. The preceptive voice over that guides most monographs is interrupted by critical voices from the outside. A large part of the book is dedicated to conversations and interviews. Starting from the details of daily life, the discussions fan out to cover huge sections of the cultural landscape. A cab driver outlines the evolution of China’s economy, a doctor describes his ideal architecture, a filmmaker talks about fame as empowerment, a model maker defends illegal migration, a government official argues for the necessity of suffering.

A semi-journalistic approach has been employed to deliver serious contents in an accessible way and reconnect architecture to its fundamental concern – human lives. Taken together, the conversations amount to a manifesto composed of questions, an elaborate argument in favor of curiosity, discussion, and disagreement.

Along with so much else, China’s architects are now in the course of constructing their own profession. MAD is popular and symbolically important, and it will play a leading role in this process. MAD Dinner is a preliminary step, an exercise in intelligence-gathering that can fuel new thinking, an account of the forces that influence architecture and that architects could influence, transmitted from inside China’s festival of growth and urban turmoil.



All images ©MAD