Building design at its visionary best engages, exhilarates, and inspires. It possesses a quality—almost indescribable—that embodies design ingenuity, connection to place, and, above all, imagination.

But today’s architectural monuments aren’t meant only to be admired from afar. “It’s not about creating an icon, but shaping public space,” says Steven Holl, referring to the Linked Hybrid, the eight-tower residential-office-retail complex his firm designed in Beijing. “You can’t understand it unless you’re over, under, and around it.” The Linked Hybrid is also “ultragreen,” Holl notes, pointing to the 655 geothermal wells beneath the buildings that provide heating and cooling. Like the best architects of his generation, Holl marries social and environmental responsibility to aesthetic ambition.