Chinese architect looks back at Yale mentorship from Zaha Hadid

Ma Yansong, 40, has become one of China’s best-known architects. His curvilinear, free-form and futuristic designs are often compared to those of his mentor, Zaha Hadid, who died on March 31 at 65. Mr. Ma says his greatest inspiration is nature; his recently completed opera house in the northern Chinese city of Harbin resembles a snow-capped mountain, while his master plan for the city of Nanjing calls for sloping buildings covered with vertical louvers that look like waterfalls. While Mr. Ma’s firm, MAD, continues to land splashy projects in China, he is also expanding in the United States. He will soon open MAD’s second American office, after Los Angeles, in New York, and now has three stateside projects underway: a high-rise in Manhattan; an apartment and retail complex in Beverly Hills, Calif.; and George Lucas’s provocative museum project in Chicago, a tent-like design that has gotten mixed reviews — one local politician compared it to a “palace for Jabba the Hutt.” In this edited interview, Mr. Ma talks about how he deals with such criticism, how traditional Eastern values inform his perspective and what he thinks about China’s ban on “weird” architecture.