Dec 28, 2018


by Jim Thompson

Hybridity: When Unlikely Typologies Collide

This summer, I spoke at NeoCon World’s Trade Fair about exploring what happens when unlikely typologies and unprecedented ideas collide. Since then, I’ve begun diving even deeper in understanding the complexities of today’s world, our cities and how architecture can play a role in warping pure building types to create new and experiential solutions born from the intersection of innovation and unorthodox combinations and ideas related to “place”.  I’d like to start a blog series to talk about Hybridity, why it’s important to our future and share some examples of those embracing this concept around the world, why it’s relevant and how the possibilities of the modern city and of urban places, realized through this new found freedom of invention, becomes endless.

So, what is hybridity? It’s an association of ideas, concepts and themes that at once reinforce and contradict each other. To apply this to the built environment, hybrid buildings then “cannot be classified according to typology as the very essence of the hybrid seeks to eschew categorization; personality, sociability, form, typology, processes, programs, density, scale, city”; they are designed to shake up social norms of public and private life. What we are seeing with hybridity – of ideas, social and cultural settings in the built environment, advanced through technology and the intersection of diverse ideas, is making what was once speculation and “on the edge”, very real and attainable, soon to be expected and the new norm.

Currently, we are starting to see the early progression to hybridity through mixed/shared typologies- combining uses such as retail with work, STEM labs (combining science and technologies) and shared-use type facilities that are pushing the idea of typology in a “linear” fashion. Though better than a mono-typology, I wouldn’t call these ‘hybrids’, as shared use is simply combining functions.

Pressures specific to the 21st century, such as six hundred million people that are in the process of moving to urban areas, the demand grows. Importantly, this becomes more than “place making”, our goal is the creation of ‘eco-systems’ that are catalytic incubators for new and experiential architectural types in the creation of inspiring and active urban places. The idea that “community” is lacking in many of these places and as humans, we have a need for understanding our place is important.  It’s why the there’s so much potential in what hybridity offers to the idea of modernity and using the “city” as fertilizer for innovation.

So if true hybridity is not a simple mixing of typologies, how do you characterize it?

  • It’s designed to shake up the social norms of public and private life
  • Its parts all contribute to something greater than their sum
  • It’s (usually) an urban area of densely varied uses with spontaneous chances for social interaction
  • It creates a center of activity that support the surrounding population
  • It becomes a cultural hub

Stay tuned for the follow up post where I’ll explore some examples of true hybrids around the globe.

For a deeper dive, check out these sources: Hybrid Buildings. Steven Holl, Conceptualizing Hybridity: Deconstructing Boundaries through the Hybrid. Haj Yazdiha, Learning in Third Space. Reijo Kupiainen, Mimicry, Ambivalence and Hybridity. Tom Nairn, Hybridity in Cultural Globalization. Marwan M. Kraidy, The Medici Effect. Frans Johansson


Jim Thompson

Jim Thompson: design addict, voracious reader, artist, collector, historian, teacher, father of 3. When at his day job leading design at Little, Jim is at the crossroads of strategic thinking, research, education and design and how this leads, informs and creates meaning in the built environment. In other words: do, say and make something that matters!

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