Designing a high-end residential development in China typically means planning a gated community. In Linked Hybrid, Steven Holl Architects created instead a pedestrian-friendly “open city within a city,” a place that both residents and non-residents can enjoy. The project is a 220,000-square-meter complex of 650 apartments, a hotel, restaurants, shops, schools, and cinema. It features eight residential towers connected by a series of parks at ground level and roof gardens and sky bridges above. More than just passageways from one building to another, the sky bridges provide space for galleries, cafes, shops, and even a swimming pool.

The multipurpose nature of the project made it difficult to get building approvals. Li Hu, partner and director of Steven Holl Architects in Beijing, recalls that he had a hard time getting the local planning authority to accept the idea of a hybrid building in 2004. “But our clients gave us a lot of freedom,” says Li. Since the construction of Linked Hybrid, other mixed-use developments have been designed for Beijing. Li says, “Sometimes you need to be ahead of your times. You can’t design for now, because now will change.”

Chen Yin, chief architect and chief engineer of Modern Green Development, acknowledges the importance of design to the complex’s success. “Architects can bring in new perspectives to local developers,” explains Chen. “Good design is a good value for the money, and you need to pay for good design.”

As part of an extensive program of sustainable strategies, SHA included 655 geothermal wells to cool the buildings in summer and heat them in winter. The firm also installed a system to collect and filter gray water and use it to fill the large reflecting pond and to irrigate the landscape.

Li remarks that the client has benefited because it can now sell units at higher prices. But he adds that, “Sometimes good design is not just good business. It can make people’s lives more pleasant, and change the landscape of the city.” Chen agrees: “When we say good business, we mean more than just commercial benefits; we mean benefits to society. Architects contribute ideas on how the city can evolve.”