‘Marilyn Monroe’ towers shape city’s future

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(CNN) — Southwest of Toronto, in a satellite city called Mississauga, Ma Yansong’s vision of a flowing, organic architecture halts the tedium of a relentlessly box-shaped city scape.

His two residential towers are alike in their sinuous curvilinearity — which enraptured locals nicknamed “Marilyn Monroe” — but were designed separately. The first tower was so beloved by Missisaugans, a second was commissioned and completed last year.

Since winning this first big international commission in 2006, Ma’s eight-year-old Beijing firm MAD has made a name for itself as a leading exponent of urban design that’s both futuristic and respectful of nature.

Their projects include breathtaking museums and towers in the Chinese cities of Harbin, Ordos and Tianjin, but Canada’s Absolute Towers are Ma’s favorite.

He was only 30 years old when his design was commissioned.

“I’d never built a building before, and that was a huge building. I had to figure out how to assemble my team, how to build a high rise. It was a surprise. I didn’t know it was so complicated to make a building,” he said.

Achieved with the help of Toronto architect Atilla Burka and structural engineer Sigmund Soudack, the first tower is 170 meters tall, with elliptical floor plates that twist at varying points depending on corresponding features in the landscape.

Today, Ma says he’s glad he didn’t know how difficult it would be to execute his vision — he might not have tried if he had.

“I was so confident about what I proposed, because I was thinking about the city.”

The city appreciated it. “Architecture lives in Mississauga at long last,” wrote one critic, who compared the building’s sashaying, ribbed shape to the pleated, body-draping garments of fashion designer Issey Miyake.

Another critic deemed it “sassy, sexy and irreverent toward the formal pieties of cereal-box skyscraper modernism”, and a comeback to “Toronto developers who complain that they can’t build and sell anything except the same boring stuff we’ve been seeing since the Second World War.

“I didn’t try to make it sexy, just not a box,” Ma says.

“I’m trying to express nature in big cities. I grew up in the old neighborhood of Beijing where you had a courtyard and trees. Actually, the whole of Beijing was a garden — the Forbidden City — and the lakes and gardens in the city center were all artificial,” he said.