van alen institute has launched an online auction of art and design experiences, offering the chance for bidders to take part in 25 unique activities around the world. the encounters will be experienced alongside notable figures in the fields of art, architecture, and design — including a hands on studio session with the haas brothers, a visit to donald judd’s compound in marfa, texas, and a helicopter ride over mexico city with architect fernando romero.


the online portion of van alen institute’s annual auction of art and design experiences is now live here via web platform paddle8, and closes at 5pm (ET) on wednesday, april 27.

the guided excursion will take in the sites of jingshan park and the adjacent forbidden city




one of the experiences offers the chance for the winning bidder to tour beijing with acclaimed chinese archiect ma yansong. as the founder and principal partner of MAD architects, ma leads the firm’s design across various scales, and is currently working on a number of projects in the chinese capital. the guided excursion will take in the sites of jingshan park and the adjacent forbidden city, spectacularly dense areas full of twists and turns. accompanied by a guest, the winning bidder will explore the ancient park, and scale the artificial jingshan mountain — which first opened to the public in 1928. having worked up an appetite, venture into one of beijing’s narrow hutongs for a personal dinner with ma.


to find out more about the experience, designboom spoke with ma yansong, who explained his role in more detail. read our interview below, and see more about the auction here.

chaoyang park plaza is a mixed-use development in central beijing




designboom: how did you become involved with the van alen institute and this year’s auction?


ma yansong: as we continue to build our second, U.S. office location in new york, we continue to plug into the local architecture and design community, including events such as van alen’s annual auction.


DB: can you describe your role in the experience and what it will involve?


MY: I will be a personal tour guide on an urban hike through jingshan park — including a brief excursion up the artificial hill to survey the city. we will also explore the dynamic urban spaces of the adjacent forbidden city and venture into the hutongs for dinner.

the project is located at the heart of the chinese capital’s central business district




DB: which of beijing’s architectural features do you wish to highlight on the tour?


MY: when many important architects, friends, curators and critics come to beijing, I usually show them these historical places — such as the hutongs — to give them an in-depth understanding about this unique place. I grew up here, so I would like to take the winning bidder through the traditional part of the city and explain my childhood, explain the differences between then and now.


DB: in what ways do you hope the winning bidder will find a new understanding of beijing?


MY: beijing is a large city with a long history and yet it is also very modern with a variety of people from different backgrounds. like many other large cities, beijing has many hidden cultural spaces — and my hope is to show the winning bidder these hidden places and events.

rising as tall mountains, a duo of asymmetrical towers establish a distinctive silhouette




DB: personally, what do you enjoy about beijing? how does the city inform your creative work?


MY: the city has left a strong impression on me, as I mentioned I grew up here, and to see the fast transformation of a historical city into modernist high-rise boxes had an impact on my own design philosophy. beijing’s traditional architecture and urban spaces maintained a spiritual connection with nature that has been sacrificed for efficiency, and I believe we can bring nature back into the city to enhance our everyday quality of life.

see all of the art + design experiences up for auction here



about van alen institute


van alen institute believes design can transform cities, landscapes, and regions to improve people’s lives. it collaborates with communities, scholars, policymakers, and professionals on local and global initiatives that rigorously investigate the most pressing social, cultural, and ecological challenges of tomorrow. building on more than a century of experience, van alen institute develops cross-disciplinary research, provocative public programs, and inventive design competitions.