Beijing, China

Reacting against the isolated high-rise housing projects going up all over Beijing these days, Steven Holl and his partner Li Hu designed a 720-unit complex that emphasizes connections between its various buildings and the city around them. The project, which should mostly be ready for occupancy later this year, features a series of bridges linking eight 22-story residential towers at the upper floors. Rather than being merely for circulation, the bridges house important programmatic elements, such as an art gallery and exhibition space, shops, a café, and even a recreation center with a swimming pool.

In addition to the so-called “sky loop,” the architects wove shops, restaurants, and a kindergarten into the base of the complex and tucked parking for 1,000 cars below grade. The architects opened the complex to the surrounding area and designed a multiplex cinema, a cylindrical hotel, and a park at its center to draw people inside.

Green design strategies played an important role throughout the project, from the 660 geothermal wells that should provide about 5,000 kilowatts of energy for heating and cooling to a gray-water recycling system designed to produce 11,000 cubic feet of water each day for flushing toilets. In addition, the architects specified recycled aluminum for the facades and a rapidly renewable resource (bamboo) for floors. Holl expects the project, which is being built on a brownfield site that once had a factory on it, to earn a LEED Gold rating.

The buildings’ poured-concrete envelope serves as both enclosure and structure, eliminating columns and beams inside and offering maximum flexibility in terms of interior partitions. Colors taken from Buddhist architecture will enliven soffits around windows and the underside of the bridges and ramps connecting the buildings.