Imagining architecture as the structure upon which meaning grows and contributes to the phenomenon of a place is particularly helpful when investigating Holl's Linked Hybrid, because the design expresses a desire to meld the objective, concrete of the building itself to the experience of the residents living and moving within.
Construction on Linked Hybrid began in 2003 and completed in 2009, when Holl's design won the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat's award for Best Tall Building (CTBUH 2009). Part of a slew of new developments born out of Beijing's revitalization as a result of its hosting of the 2008 Olympic games, Linked Hybrid is a mixed-use development consisting of "a ring of eight 21-story towers, linked at the 20th floor by gentling sloping public sky bridges, lined with galleries, cafes, restaurants, bars and shops" (Busari 2008). Each tower is rectangular, with some towers being additionally linked at the bottom with horizontal extensions. The face of the buildings is nearly uniform, with square windows breaking up the concrete walls except for where diagonal likes of concrete cut across multiple squares, thus giving the outside of each tower the appearance of kind of fence or netting held rigid by the diagonal reinforcements, giving the complex a lightness not otherwise possible.
The aforementioned sky bridges extend outward from corners and edges, so that they punctuate the sharp rectangles with slopes and curves, giving the impression of biological filaments growing in between the concrete structure of the towers themselves. These perform the "linking" and hybridity hinted at in the name, because they serve to connect each tower while simultaneously providing a visual departure from the monotony of the towers.
The eight towers and linking sky bridges form a rough elliptical around a massive water feature and green space in the center of the site, and provide a kind of intimacy while nonetheless remaining a "porous urban space" (Holl 2009). The sky bridges as well as the frames of the inset windows feature blue, red, yellow, and green details and lighting, the only color except for the green of the rooftop garden spaces.
One may see the hallmarks of phenomenological theory firstly in the shape of the overall design itself. The buildings form a ring around the central area, thus creating a "city within a city" while remaining porous enough that "all public functions on the ground level, - including a restaurant, hotel, Montessori school, kindergarten, and cinema - have connections with the green spaces surrounding and penetrating the project" (Holl 2009). The green spaces serve to disrupt the wall of concrete created by towers, and is the most obvious example of the design's overarching theme, which is the emergence of novel, biological meanings around, on top of, and through the concrete structure of the building itself. The water and green space functions as a way of suturing the development into the larger city, because the greenery serves as a kind of amorphous glue, by which the clearly related towers of Linked Hybrid may be further linked to the architecture of the surrounding city. In turn, the green space serves to funnel people into and out of the complex so that residents and visitors themselves become this connective tissue, with their individual experiences providing the means by which the phenomenological experience of Link Hybrid and the city of Beijing as a whole are integrated and synthesized.
Before continuing on to analyze the finer details of Linked Hybrid's design, it will be useful to briefly consider a few of the more common negative criticisms of the complex, because even these criticisms can help demonstrate how Linked Hybrid serves to exemplify phenomenological practice. The most importance negative criticism leveled at Linked Hybrid is the way in which its towers form a kind of wall, which according to some reviewers cuts off the complex from the city, "reminiscent of gated communities that are becoming increasingly popular around the world" (Busari 2008). While the previous discussion of the green space should help to reveal why this criticism is perhaps not particularly valid if one examines the entirety of the complex and not just the towers, it nonetheless helps to reveal how Linked Hybrid attempts to enact a phenomenological practice by creating a particular place conducive to certain experiences. The ring of towers serves to isolate the central space of the complex from the rest of the city while the green space functions as corridors to that interior, so the combination of the two can be seen as representative of the underlying tension between objective nature and the intentional structuring of physical reality by human beings. Far from portraying an impermeable wall, the ring of towers demonstrates the ultimate inability to prohibit the free flow of nature and life, and instead embraces the relationship between structure and emergent phenomenon.
This is integrated into the actual functioning of the building itself, because just as the towers and the surrounding green space function intimately, the buildings and the underlying geological formations are integrated so that "geothermal wells 100m below the foundations provide heating in the winter and aid cooling during the summer" (De Zeen Magazine 2009). Thus, aside from the "green" appeal provided by energy efficiency, the actual functional processes of the design are so incorporated into its immediate context that the building literally represents the meeting of nature and man-made structure.
This blending of emergent, natural, organic outgrowths and the concrete structures of man-made objects continues even as a motif within the concrete structures themselves, and nowhere is this more clear than in the sky bridges. The sky bridges, as they remain aesthetically consistent with the towers, are not "organic" or "biological" in any usual sense, and they maintain the sharp edges of the rectangular towers even as the slope into more complex shapes. The effect is to give the entire structure the appearance of something in a simply rendered visualization of a digital world, with the sky bridges serving as bizarre, digital lifeforms attaching themselves to the rigid structures of the tower system. However, this is not to suggest that Linked Hybrid is "the stuff of dystopic science fiction," to which it has been compared, but rather a way of noting how the rigidity of the concrete structure, far from presenting a kind of stark dichotomy between the green space around it, actually attempts to reify the relationship between the concrete and amorphous in the structure itself (Busari 2008).
Thus, the "hybrid" to which the title refers can be considered on four different levels. Firstly, the complex is designated as "mixed-use," meaning that it is a combination of commercial and residential space. Secondly, the combination of the green space and the ring of towers presents an obvious visual hybrid of manufactured material and biological growth. The use of geothermal vents for heating and cooling represents another kind of hybrid, in which natural processes are incorporated into the functioning of the building (certain other features contribute to this, such as the collection of rainwater). However, all of these interpretations of hybridity, though important for understanding the complex's relationship to phenomenological theory, are not nearly as important as the hybridity created with the sky bridges and the towers themselves, because this spatial and functional interaction is the probably the most creative and interesting deployment of phenomenological theory in the entire complex.
The loop created by the sky bridges "aspires to be semi-lattice-like rather than simplistically linear," and this characterization is perhaps the best way of understanding how the bridges are a prime example of phenomenological practice (Holl 2009). The bridges serve to link the various residential towers, such that what was previously a collection of static domiciles becomes linked by near-discordant tunnels implying movement and interaction, so that "the public sky-loop and the base-loop will constantly generate random relationships," functioning "as social condensers resulting in a special experience of city life to both residents and visitors" (Holl 2009). The bridges function as a kind of visual representation of the meaningful links between people, a concrete imitation of the bonds which tie objective space and human-generated meaning together. Thus, far from dictating the individual experience, the sky bridges, and Linked Hybrid in general, offer a structure through which novel experiences may emerge. The bridges are far more colorful than the towers themselves, which further serves to identify them as locations of particular meaning and importance, where the structure of the buildings disappears and people are free to flow past each other, each one contributing to the particular atmosphere of the place that is its phenomenological experience. Finally, this desire to foment individual experience even extends to the individual unites, where the design "has incorporated a huge variety of apartment layouts for the 728 different living spaces" (Lee 2006).
Steven Holl's Linked Hybrid in Beijing demonstrates the intersection of architectural theory and practice by exemplifying the phenomenological ideals of simplicity and integration into…