ma yansong: floating earth tray for alessi's (UN)forbidden city
ma yansong: floating earth tray for alessi's (UN)forbidden city ma yansong: floating earth tray for alessi's (UN)forbidden city
nov 14, 2011

ma yansong: floating earth tray for alessi's (UN)forbidden city

‘floating earth’ by ma yansong for alessi image courtesy of MAD architects


alessi has invited 8 renown chinese architects (chang yung ho, liu jiakun, urbanus, wang shu, zhang ke, zhang lei and gary chang, along with ma yansong ) to give their own interpretation of one of alessi’s typological archetypes of production: the tray. the dramatic transformation that is taking place in china is the source for a discussion that here revolves around a tray that symbolizes a domestic micro architecture, a sort of bridge between two apparently very distant cultures (italy/china).


ma yansong of MAD architects has used this occasion to break into industrial design with his  ‘floating earth’ project. it is a three tiered tray that uses mahogany and stainless steel to visually represent the idea that, although we live on earth, we only see one layer of a vast mass.



‘floating earth’ by ma yansong

ma yansong’s four level tray



representation of trays as earth
images courtesy of MAD architects




the organic forms of the steel are continued in the shape and grain of the wood.

‘a tray , like earth, holds many things. we look to the earth but see see only what rests upon it. she fades from sight, and seems not to exist. yet she persists.


a boundless surface upon which all is reflected; the home, the city. an ever-expanding scope. each rising layer, then, a tower storey. an unscripted space full of kinetic potential. but rooted in the still, same earth. there is nothing without the earth and yet the earth is not here for us – she can leave is the blue sky that she loves.’ ma yansong

the ‘(UN)forbidden city’ exhibition design

the eight projects were presented for the first time to the public in a preview exhibition at the shijitan contemporary art center and  during beijing design week 2011 at the aether art space gallery in sanlitun. the exhibition concept and the design of the ‘(UN)forbidden city’ exhibition was curated by gary chang, in collaboration with the beijing industrial design center / mr. chen dong liang. the gallery space is transformed into a mahjong playing room.  instead of having the usual busy and noisy game atmosphere, the surreal installation is made of illuminated table-tops, where the projects are displayed and 4 drawers containing LCD screens for detailed information.


ma yansong in the exhibition

prototype of tray on show at the (UN)forbidden city exhibition image © designboom



top view of prototype image © designboom



side view of prototype image © designboom



(left) ma yansong contemplating prototype of tray (right) compositional diagram  pg. 176-177 of ‘(UN)forbidden city’ catalogue by officina alessi image © designboom



(left) section  (right) plan   pg. 178-179 of ‘(un)forbidden city’ catalogue by officina alessi image © designboom


(left) snapshot of design session  (right) sketch of product  pg. 168-169 of ‘(UN)forbidden city’ catalogue by officina alessi image © designboom


(left) concept image  (right) detail pg. 162-163 of ‘(UN)forbidden city’ catalogue by officina alessi image © designboom


prototypes pg. 176-177 of ‘(UN)forbidden city’ catalogue by officina alessi image © designboom


the trays will enter into production in early 2012,  and will be available within the spring summer collection as part of the officina alessi catalogue. stay tuned for more articles featuring the outcome of this design collaboration. 

gary chang, ma yansong, chang yung ho, alberto alessi and members of the beijing design center image © designboom

alberto alessi signing graphic wall  image © designboom



ma yansong signing his silhouette on graphic wall image © designboom


ma yansong participated in the ‘contemporary chinese architecture from the outside in‘, a talk hosted by designboom at beijing design week 2011.

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