Image in modal.

Perched on the riverfront in Taiping Xu in the Guangdong province of southern China, multi-colored textiles anchored by a 65-foot-tall light structure encircles a long-abandoned concrete complex wrapped in reflective material. Entitled Timeless Beacon, the temporary installation designed by MAD Architects founder Ma Yansong beckons visitors to the three-story Taiping Market—the largest vacant building in the once-flourishing fishing district.

Old Taiping Market, pre-renovation.

Old Taiping Market, pre-renovation. Photo courtesy MAD Architects

Commissioned by local arts festival, Guangdong Nanhai Art Field, the project is part of a larger effort to breathe new life into Taiping Xu—now a vestige of a once-thriving bastion of the Ming Dynasty. Although the area experienced centuries of prosperity since its founding in the late 1500s and early 1600s, urbanization and the internet boom of the 1980s rendered the physical market obsolete and prompted the area’s slow decline. As younger generations left the quiet streets lined with concrete houses and brick buildings for faster-growing cities rich with the promise of opportunity, the prosperous port of commerce faded into little more than a memory in the minds of an aging, dwindling population.

“We hope to create a sense of vitality and rebirth from the ruins,” said Yansong in a statement, “so that people can feel new energy from the old structure, as well as a new understanding of time.”

Beijing-based MAD, known for vast, futuristic and often fantastical designs emblematic of China’s spate of urbanization projects (part of president Xi Jinping’s multi-trillion dollar infrastructure package), has helmed projects from a monumental stadium in China inspired by the Land art movement to a forested train station in the Yangtze River Delta.

Top of Taiping Market.


Taiping Market, street view.


Residents traverse surrounding area (1) as MAD's Timeless Beacon installation at Taiping Market looms in the background of Taiping Xu's narrow streets (2). Photos by Zhang Kai (1), courtesy MAD Architects (1+2)

As with many of MAD’s projects, the intervention harkens to the area's history in material and form, while animating the barge-shaped construction with vibrant tones and the possibility of renewal. Encased in reflective strips of film at its base, Timeless Beacon mirrors its historic surroundings while casting them in a novel hue. Adorned with a light tower at its peak, covered in mirror acrylic paneling and enveloped by brightly colored fishing nets, in a form akin to a maypole, it reflects the materiality of a bygone trade. Though the vitality of Taiping Market has been relegated solely to memory for decades, the firm attests that with the lighthouse, “MAD intends to parallel the time scales of history and future through design, forming a surreal scene that brings people back to imagination.”

Timeless Beacon will be on view through the summer of 2024.

Top of Taiping Market.


Taiping Market, street view.


The top of MAD's temporary intervention peeks over buildings (3), while others take pictures at the market's reflective base (4). Photos by Tian Fangfang (4), courtesy MAD Architects (3+4)

MAD Architects’s Timeless Beacon Installation at Taiping Market in Taiping Xu, Nanhai in the Guangdong province of China. Video courtesy MAD Architects