ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Hong Kong

TEMPLE BY THE NULLAH, Pak Tai Temple (灣仔北帝廟), Wan Chai, Hong Kong

For a city with 1,113 sq.km of land, Hong Kong has an astonishing 1,178km (some say 733km depending if all 261 outer islands are counted) of coastline. From a fishing village to a global trading port, Hong Kong’s relationship with the sea is the most essential character for the city. Before the arrival of the British, the city was no more than a scattered collection of fishing communities across the territory. Where there were fishing villages there would also be shrines dedicated to guardian deities of the sea. Many of these communities were made up with diasporas from different regions of China, where each has their unique customs and guardian deity, thus bringing a wide range of temples to the city. Popular sea deity in Hong Kong includes Tin hau (天后), a Fujianese sea goddess also named Mazu in Taiwan and Southeast Asia; Hung Shing (洪聖), god of the southern seas originated from a Guangdong official in the Tang Dynasty; Pak Tai (北帝), a Taoist cosmological god from Northern China; Tam Kung (譚公), a sea god common in Huizhou of Guangdong; Lung Mo (龍母), another sea goddess from Southern China known as the Dragon Mother, etc.


In Wan Chi, 500m from the Hung Shing Temple (洪聖古廟), Pak Tai Temple(灣仔北帝廟) stands as a much bigger temple complex hidden under the shadows of an imposing old Banyan tree in a public park at the upper end of Stone Nullah Lane. Hidden at the tranquil end of the Stone Nullah neighbourhood, visiting the temple feels like entering a distinct world from the commercial district of Wan Chai, despite the iconic 78 storey Central Plaza and the waterfront skyline are just 800m to the north. Built in 1863, Pak Tai Temple is the largest temple complex on Hong Kong Island, and home to a 400 year old bronze statue and a 160 year old antique bell. Also called Yuk Hui Kong (玉虛宮), Pak Tai Temple is mainly dedicated to Pak Tai (北帝), a Taoist god from Northern China that is also called Xuanwu (玄武) or Xuantian Shangdi (玄天上帝). Pak Tai is a powerful god related to the Northern Star and one of the 28 constellations of the north, controlling the power of water in the five elements, and thus he is also considered as a sea god. Apart from Pak Tai, the temple also serves as an one stop worshipping hall for a number of traditional Chinese deities, such as Ji Gong (濟公), Eight Immortals (八仙), Guan Yu (關公), Bodhisattva Guanyin (觀音), City God Shing Wong (城隍), God of Wealth Choi Sen (財神), constellation deities Tai Sui (太歲), Dragon Mother Lung Mo (龍母), etc. Perhaps of its central location, Pak Tai Temple continues to attract worshippers from across the city even in the 21st century. It is definitely one of the busiest temples we have visited in Hong Kong.

Pak Tai Temple is also called Yuk Hui Kong (玉虛宮). [2022]
Adjacent to the main hall stands Hall of Three Treasures (三寶殿), a Buddhist worshipping hall for more quiet prayers. [2022]
A pleasant forecourt links up all the worshipping halls. [2022]
Outside the main hall, two large lanterns are hung from the eaves to mark the entrance elegantly. [2022]
Exquisite decorative woodwork can be appreciated without entering the hall. [2022]
Elegant decorations of the timber beams. [2022]
Lung Sai Bowl (龍洗盆), a copper bowl with two handles which allows user to rub in quick motion until the reverberated vibrations to trigger fierce rhythm of dancing water, is commonly found at entrance of a Chinese temple. [2022]
Through the main gate, the first worship hall with a prominent statue of Pak Tai can be reached. [2022]
Casted in 1603 (萬曆三十一年), the 3m bronze statue of Pak Tai is the oldest artefact in the temple. It was originally housed in a temple in Guangdong, China. A wealthy businessman bought the statue during the civil war years and housed it in his Kowloon villa. After his villa was demolished by the Japanese to make way for the airport expansion, the statue was eventually relocated to the temple in Wan Chai. 2022]
Apart from the bronze statue, the decorations in the temple ate equally splendid. [2022]
A stone plaque with names of early donors quietly sits at a side wall in the temple. [2022]
A traditional drum is often used during rituals that communicate with the gods. [2022]
Before the drum, a bronze bell dated to 1863 is also a tool for rituals. [2022]
The main altar sits by another statue of Pak Tai, flanked both sides by his four generals. [2022]
Apart from calligraphy, the ceiling temple is decorated with rows of lanterns donated by worshippers. [2022]
Pak Tai Temple is one of the busiest temples we have been to in Hong Kong. [2022]
Each of the four generals has his unique outfit, weapon and facial expression. [2022]
The serious expression of the four generals help to create a solemn ambience for the main hall. [2022]
Statues of the four generals are beautifully decorated. [2022]
The detail touches on the statues are not easy to find nowadays in Hong Kong. [2022]

BLUE HOUSE BY THE NULLAH, Wan Chai (灣仔), Hong Kong

From Victoria Peak, a stream flowed down to Kennedy Road and then found its way down a stone nullah into Victoria Harbour next to the imposing Naval Hospital (today’s Ruttonjee Hospital). Despite the water’s occasional foul smell, the community regularly came to the nullah for laundry. In 1959, the nullah was covered and turned into Stone Nullah Lane (石水渠街). Today, apart from some car mechanics and restaurants, Stone Nullah Lane is best known as one of the oldest neighborhoods in Wan Chai, and its tourist attractions: Pak Tai Temple (灣仔北帝廟) and Blue House (藍屋). Among all the historical buildings in Wan Chai, Blue House is probably one of the most well known, partly due to its importance as one of the city’s last remaining prewar tenement buildings (tong lau) with balconies, and partly due to its vivid blue colour. Passing by the intersection of Queen’s Road East and Stone Nullah Lane, it is almost impossible to miss the Blue House complex and its colourful neighbours. To many’s surprise, the Blue house complex was not always blue. In 1990’s, two decades after the building was acquired by the government, blue paint was used to dress up the structure simply because there was blue paint available from the Water Department.

Long before the complex was painted blue, the Blue House was already a well known destination in the neighborhood for its healthcare and educational roles in the community. Long before the complex was even erected, the site was home to Wah Tuo Hospital (華佗醫院), a clinic serving the local community. After the clinic was merged into a larger facility in Sheung Wan, the clinic was converted into a small temple dedicated to Wah Tuo (華陀), the legendary Chinese physician in the 2nd century AD. In 1920, a tenement block with exquisite balconies were erected at 72, 72A, 74 and 74A Stone Nullah Lane, which later became the Blue House that we know today. In 1950’s, descendant of a student of the famous Chinese martial artist and physician Wong Fei-hung (黃飛鴻) opened a martial arts school and dit da (跌打) or Chinese bone-setting clinic at the Blue House. Apart from healthcare, the Blue House also housed a charity school (鏡涵義學) and Wan Chai’s only prewar English school (一中書院), a grocery shop, wine shop, union of the seafood trade, and residential units. Over half a century from its completion, in 1978 the complex was acquired by the government. After the complex was listed as heritage building in 2000, the project “Viva Blue House” was put forward by St Jame’s Settlement (聖雅各福群會), the NGO serving the Stone Nullah Lane community since 1949. Began in 2006, “Viva Blue House” aims to revitalize the complex and the adjacent Yellow House and Orange House into a tourist attraction/ apartment compound. As part of the project, a visitor centre called Hong Kong House of Stories (香港故事館) was established at the Blue House, telling neighborhood stories to outsiders through workshops, exhibitions, tours, and talks, as well as organizing community events such as communal dinners and film screening.

The open stone nullah at Stone Nullah Lane was a community laundry spot a century ago. [Photo: 1910’s, public domain]
The splendid Pak Tai Temple (灣仔北帝廟) and Stone Nullah Stone Garden (石水渠街公園) mark the end of Stone Nullah Lane. [2022]
An old street sign of Stone Nullah Lane was preserved at the temple wall. [2022]
Apart from the renovated Blue House and Yellow House, only a few original old tenement buildings remain in the neighborhood of Stone Nullah Lane. [2022]
From Queen’s Road East, Stone Nullah Lane can be easily recognized by its colourful tenement blocks. [2022]
Among all the colourful buildings, the most famous block is undoubtedly the Blue House. It remains as one of the last surviving prewar tenement building or tong lau equipped with balconies. [2022]
Vivid colour has become a symbol of the Blue House neighborhood. [2022]
With workshops, small exhibitions, talks, community events, vegetarian restaurant, and organic shop, the Blue House is a popular destination during weekends. [2020]
The unintended blue paint has become an iconic character for the Blue House. [2020]
Once a year, tour of a selected flat is available during the open house event. [2022]
The ground floor of no. 72 was the former location of Wah Tuo Temple and martial art school of Lam Jo (林祖). Lam was the nephew of Lam Sai Wing (林世榮), the student of legendary martial artist and physician Wong Fei-hung (黃飛鴻). [2022]
After a thorough renovation, the Viva Blue House revitalization project continues to organize events for the community and outside visitors. [2022]
The Blue House has become an official hub of the Stone Nullah Lane community. A blackboard at the courtyard outlines the list of events for the week, from community dinner, workshops, recycling collection, to public interpretative tours. [2020]
Occupied the ground floor of no. 74, Hong Kong House of Stories (香港故事館) serves as a small visitor centre at the Blue House. [2022]
A Christmas tree made with recycled plastic bottle caps was on display at the Blue House courtyard in 2021. [2022]
We have been to the lovely Local Ginger Veggie Bistro (本地薑) at the Blue House courtyard a few times. The restaurant actually occupies the ground floor of the adjacent building, the Orange Building (橙屋) at King Sing Street (景星街). [2020]
Local Ginger Veggie Bistro (本地薑) uses local produces and ingredients for their vegetarian dishes. [2020]
Built in 1957, the Orange House (橙屋) almost got demolished in 2006. In 2007, the government decided to preserve Orange House as part of the Blue House revitalization project. [2022]
1927 saw the completion of the beautiful Yellow House (黃屋) right next to the Blue House at Hing Wan Street (慶雲街). [2022]
After the revitalization of Blue House, the Stone Nullah Lane neighborhood has welcomed a new wave of artistic and youthful culture. [2022]
Across the street from Yellow House, Tai Lung Fung (大龍鳳) has become a cool venue in the neighborhood for drinks and local snacks. [2022]
Apart from Lockhart Road and the redeveloped Lee Tung Avenue and Starstreet Precinct, the Blue House neighborhood is an off the beaten destination to chill out after work. [2022]

STORY OF WAN CHAI (灣仔) IN 13 BUILDINGS, Hong Kong

East of Central and Admiralty lies another old neighborhood of Hong Kong Island – Wan Chai (灣仔). Throughout the past two centuries, Wan Chai has developed from a fishing community around a shrine called Hung Shing Temple (洪聖古廟) to a prominent extension of the city’s central business district where commercial buildings race to the sky. Yet, in the shadows of skyscrapers, Wan Chai is a highly walkable neighborhood dotted with small alleys and interesting buildings from different eras. From modern skyscrapers near the Harbour to the hundred-year-old temples at the foothill of Victoria Peak, and all the renovated tenement buildings in between, half an hour walk in the area offers quite a variety of urban scenery. If buildings can tell stories, visiting a handful of buildings in the neighborhood would reveal a general overview of how Wan Chai has evolved and continued reinventing itself. Apart from Fenwick Pier, the arrival point of foreign sailors that gave us the world of Suzie Wong and the exotic Wan Chai where the neon signs and bar music once ruled, there is actually a whole lot more buildings telling a completely different story. Along with the city’s changing fortunes, this story of Wan Chai has never ceased to evolve, shifting from founding a residential community, to developing a business centre, and to reinventing itself from its historical past.

1847: Hung Shing Temple (洪聖古廟)

Probably erected in 1847, Wan Chai’s Hung Shing Temple is one of 42 temples in Hong Kong dedicated to Hung Shing, the God of Southern Seas. Believed to protect people from natural disasters, Hung Shing was widely worshiped by fishing communities in Southern China. Situated 800m away from the harbourfront, Hung Shing Temple was once standing right by the shore before series of land reclamation that completely transformed Wan Chai in the next 170 years. The area around Hung Shing Temple was home to the earliest settlements in Wan Chai, a fishing community predated the arrival of the British. 170 years ago, the temple was probably the most prominent structure in Wan Chai. Now, it is dwarfed by highrise concrete buildings in all directions.

Today, Hung Shing Temple is dwarfed by the surrounding concrete buildings along Queen’s Road East. [Photo taken from Queen’s Road East, 2020]
Hung Shing Temple was home to the original seaside shrine erected on a piles of boulders. [2020]
Despite Wan Chai is no longer a fishing community, Hung Shing Temple is still popular among local worshipers. [2020]

1915: Old Wan Chai Post Office (舊灣仔郵政局)

From 1860’s on, Wan Chai was predominately occupied by Chinese residents, and soon became one of the most populated areas in the city. Less than 300m down Queen’s Road East from Hung Shing Temple stands one of the earliest surviving post office buildings in Hong Kong. Opened in 1915, the post office served the community of Wan Chai for 77 years. The small post office had witnessed Wan Chai’s dramatic transformations throughout much of the 20th century. With Chinese tiled roof and Western moulding, arched windows and gable ends, the building reflects a fusion architectural approach that was not uncommon in the colonial days.

Being the oldest surviving post office building in Hong Kong, the Old Wan Chai Post Office is a declared monument of Hong Kong. [Photo taken from Queen’s Road East, 2020]
In response to the pandemic, the environmental conservation interpretation centre at the Old Wan Chai Post Office is currently closed to public and windows got screened off. [Photo taken from Queen’s Road East, 2022]

1929: Southorn Playground (修頓遊樂場)

Leaving an urban void like Central Park of New York City is a common strategy in many cities around the world. While Southorn Playground is not exactly a building, it has however played an essential role in the urban context of Wan Chai for many generations. After reclaiming land from Victoria Harbour (Praya East Reclamation Scheme in 1920’s), Colonial Secretary Thomas Southorn suggested preserving the land between Johnson Road and Hennessy Road for use of children recreation. The layout and uses of the playground have changed several times throughout history. The last time of major transformation for Southorn Playground occurred in 1980’s, when the Island Line of the MTR metro passed beneath Wan Chai. Part of the playground was demolished to make way for Wan Chai MTR Station, along with the erection of Southorn Stadium, Southorn Centre and Southorn Garden (residential tower) above the station. Today, Southorn Playground remains as the main recreational venue and social gathering place for Wan Chai residents, providing a football pitch, four basketball courts and a children’s playground.

In the old days, Southorn Playground would usually be occupied by different ball games from day to night. At night, the seating would be filled by cheering spectators, who were mostly residents from the neighbourhood. Today, all social and sporting activities have temporary suspended. The playground is currently a designated Covid testing station. [2022]

1937: Old Wanchai Market (灣仔街市)

From 1937 to 2007, Wan Chai Market was at the heart of the Wan Chai community. Constructed in Streamline Moderne style, the market was at the forefront of design trends of 1930’s. During Japanese occupation between 1941 to 1945, basement of the market building was used as a makeshift mortuary for corpses. In 2009, half of the building was demolished to make way for a 35-storey residential development. The front half of the old market were preserved and converted into a retail facility below the new residential tower.

Today, part of the old Wan Chai Market has become the podium of a highrise residence, one of the many joint venture projects that involve the Urban Renewal Authority and a private developer. [Photo taken from Queen’s Road East, 2022]
The curvy and elaborated shadings dominate the facades of the old Wan Chai Market. [Photo taken from Queen’s Road East, 2022]

1980: Hopewell Centre (合和中心)

1980’s was often regarded as the golden age of Hong Kong. The decade also saw the rise of Wan Chai as a commercial district between the Cross Harbour Tunnel and the financial district of Central. Completed in 1980, the 64-storey skyscraper Hopewell Centre was the tallest building in the city for nine years. Situated at the foothill of Victoria Peak, Hopewell Centre can be accessed at ground floor from Queen’s Road East and at 17th floor from Kennedy Road. The building was designed by Gordon Wu, the founder and chairman of Hopewell Holdings Ltd. Wu’s tower expresses the confidence of the his era by doing something that no body else has done in the city: building a 222m cylindrical tower, cladded with vertical fins and topped with a revolving restaurant and a rooftop pool (mainly for fengshui purpose). After four decades, the building no longer holds the title of the city’s tallest building (no. 28 nowadays), but continues to stand as an urban icon of Wan Chai.

Standing against the residential towers of Lee Tung Street, the cylindrical Hopewell Centre immediately stand out from the surrounding urban context. [Photo taken from Podium Garden of Lee Tung Street, 2022]
Highlighted by yellow rings, the revolving restaurant forms the crown of Hopewell Centre. [Photo taken from Queen’s Road East, 2022]
Many locals would take the lifts in Hopewell Centre to go between Queen’s Road East (ground floor) and Kennedy Road (17th floor). [2022]

1992: Central Plaza (中環廣場)

For ten years between 1992 and 2003, the 374m (78 storeys) Central Plaza was the tallest building in Hong Kong, and one of the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world. Designed by local firm Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects, a triangular plan was adopted for the design to maximize office area with sea views. While steel structure is much more common for buildings at such height, a concrete system was selected to save construction cost. Sky City Church, the world’s highest church, is a tenant of Central Plaza, and so as offices of a number of international businesses. The creation of Central Plaza almost coincided with the completion of the adjacent Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. These projects further established Wan Chai as the extension of Central, the main business district of Hong Kong.

The mast at the tip of Central Plaza is more than 100m in height. [2020]
Central Plaza is surrounded by other Grade A office towers and Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC). [2022]

1997: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (香港會議展覽中心)

1997 marked a historical moment for Hong Kong when the former British colony was handed back to China. While Hong Kong was briefly at the center-stage of international news, Wan Chai was under spotlight as the main venue of the handover ceremony. In front of Central Plaza and the old wing of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), a new event hall was erected on a newly reclaimed island. Designed by Chicago firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) in gesture of a flying bird, and completed in four years from land reclamation to construction, the new wing of HKCEC served well as the main stage for Jiang Zemin of China and Prince Charles of Britain to define a new era for Hong Kong. After 1997, the hall continues to serve as an exhibition venue for events such as Art Basel and Hong Kong Book Fair, etc.

In front of Central Plaza, the new wing of Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre [2020]
To meet the deadline of 1997’s handover ceremony, the construction of HKCEC’s new wing took only 48 months from land reclamation to completion. [2022]
From the new wing, the skyline of the financial district is just less than 1km away. [2015]

1998: Chinese Methodist Church (循道衛理聯合教會香港堂)

The red bricks facades, rooftop Chinese pavilion, green glazed roof tiles and triangular building shape, the iconic Chinese Methodist Church has guarded the western entry of Wan Chai for six decades. In 1990’s, the church decided to partner with a developer on a redevelopment project, demolishing the historical church building and replacing it with a 22 storey commercial building. The building was completed in 1998, with floors dedicated for church functions and also office rentals (levels above 10th floor). This religious institution and developer partnership is a luring business for both sides: developer can lay hands on a prestige site while the religious institution can expand its floor area for free. The project was somewhat controversial and opened up a debate on the appropriacy of a commercial deal between a religious institution and a private developer.

The 1998 Chinese Methodist Building still enjoys its prominent site at the intersection of Hennessy Road and Johnson Road. [2021]
Between 1936 – 1994, the red brick Chinese Methodist Church stood at the mouth of Wan Chai for sixty years. [Photo: Ted Tharme, probably taken at around 1936. Commando Veterans Archive: Views and life in S.E Asia as seen through the lens of No5Commando, http://gallery.commandoveterans.org/cdoGallery/main.php, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0]

2003: Foo Tak Building (富德樓)

In 2003, the landlady decided to find tenants for her refurbished 14-storey Foo Tak Building on Hennessy Road. At a public talk, she learnt from speaker May Fung (馮美華), a prominent promoter of visual arts in Hong Kong, that the artist community was having hard times finding affording studio spaces in Hong Kong. After the talk, the landlady approached May Fung and offered to rent out her flats in Foo Tak Building at affordable prices for artists, and invited May Fung to manage what would become the city’s longest surviving artist village. At first, 18 units are rented out to selected artists, bookshops and cultural organizations. After some time, the entire building was donated out to serve as the vertical artist village. In comparison to government run establishments, tenants at Foo Tak Building enjoy much more freedom and less management control. While the 1968 concrete building may not look attractive from outside, Foo Tak Building has silently become one of the most unique cultural oases at the heart of Hong Kong.

Standing right beside the construction site of 369 Hennessy Road, Foo Tak Building appears no different than any other concrete buildings erected in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Hong Kong. [2022]
Today, the vertical artist village is frequented by anyone who is interested in art. Small exhibitions are occasionally held, as well as cultural talks and small social gatherings. Bookstores on art and philosophy are also the main draw for visitors. Many visitors would take the elevators up to the top floor and walk down level by level to check out if anything interesting is opened to the public. [2021]
A small art exhibition was on show at Foo Tak Building. [2021]

2007: Woo Cheong Pawn (和昌大押)

Conservation of heritage buildings and urban revitalization have been recent hot topics in Hong Kong, particularly in old districts such as Sheung Wan and Wan Chai. In 2007, Urban Renewal Authority (URA) engaged with a private developer to erect a highrise residential tower at Johnston Road. The fate of the historical Woo Cheong Pawn building was also included in the project. Built in 1888 and 1900 on land reclaimed in 1887, the four tenement buildings (tong lau) have been a prominent fixture at Johnston Road for over a hundred years. The buildings were constructed with timber structures, brick walls, wood floors, verandas and high ceilings. Such design was common for commercial buildings in that era. At the end, the buildings were designated for a thorough restoration, and have since been converted into a destination of highend restaurants.

Today, the building group of Woo Cheong Pawn has become a landmark of Wan Chai. [Photographed at Johnston Road, 2022]
Before revitalization, the building was at risk of demolition after a century of deterioration. [Photographed at Johnston Road, 2004]
Throughout much of the 20th century, 66 Johnston Road was always occupied by Woo Cheong Pawn, while its neighboring businesses have changed hands a number of times. [Photo taken in 1960’s, wikimedia commons, public domain]

2013: 7 Mallory Street (茂蘿街7號), formerly Comix Home Base (動漫基地)

In 2013, the opening of another URA revitalization project in Wan Chai has captured public attention. Known as the Green House in the past, a cluster of ten prewar tenement buildings was under spotlight for conservation. While facades of the 1922 buildings are preserved, much of the interior spaces have been transformed to suit contemporary purposes: shops, restaurants, multi function rooms, exhibition spaces, and public outdoor nodes. For the first five years, the restored building was occupied by Comix Home Base, a NGO that promotes the art of comics. After the NGO moved out, the upper levels of the restored building have become venues for public hire.

The 1922 facade of 7 Mallory Street is largely preserved. [2020]
Consisted of tenement buildings facing two parallel streets, interior spaces of half the historical buildings have been removed to create a public courtyard in the middle. [2020]
Temporary exhibitions would be held inside 7 Mallory Street. [2020]
Wall mural depicting an old street shop in Wan Chai offers visitors at 7 Mallory Street a glimpse of the former street life in the neighborhood. [2020]

2015: Tung Tak Pawn (同德押)

Not all prewar heritage buildings share the same fate like the preserved Woo Cheong Pawn. At 369 Hennessy Road, another famous historical building Tung Tak Pawn had sadly met its end in 2015. With a prominent round corner, the 1930’s tenement building was the last of its kind on Hong Kong Island. During the heat debate of heritage conservation and a possible reassessment of historical building classification for the structure, Tung Tak Pawn was brutally torn down overnight before the debate could reach a final conclusion. Today, Tung Tak Pawn represents a significant loss for heritage preservation in Hong Kong, and a vivid reminder of the impotency of the city’s conservation policies.

Scaffolding were suddenly put up at Tung Tak Pawn in 2015, prompting a heat debate of heritage conservation in the first half of 2015. [2015]
The two neon signs of Tung Tak Pawn on Hennessy Road from the mid 20th century are also important urban artifacts for Wan Chai. [2015]

2015: Lee Tung Street (利東街), formerly Wedding Card Street (喜帖街)

Some see the recent redevelopment of Lee Tung Street, formerly known as Wedding Card Street due to its concentration of wedding card printing shops, as another big loss of heritage conservation. While printing businesses have long been established in the area, it was not until 1970’s that Lee Tung Street has made its name by becoming the unofficial “Wedding Card Printing Street” in Hong Kong. In 1998, the URA announced the revitalization project of Lee Tung Street and McGregor Street. After years of compensatory negotiations and conservation outcries, Lee Tung Street was eventually wiped out from the map in 2007, and reopened in 2015 as a highend residential and commercial development managed by the URA and private developers. No matter if one agrees or not on the “demolition and redevelopment model”, the consequences for such large scale urban redevelopment is inevitable leaning towards in favour of the big developers and government. Not only does the unique character of the neighborhood was eliminated, but the existing flat and shop owners were also forced to leave their own home. The URA offered flat owners on Lee Tung Street a compensatory scheme of HK$4000 per square feet (USD 510), but at the end the new apartment flats were sold for at least HK$23,000 (US$2,930) in 2013. Since 2015, the new Lee Tung Street has become a popular dining destination in Wan Chai. At big festivals, large scale decorations would be put up to draw the crowds.

With most wedding card shops moved out, the new Lee Tung Street has nothing to do with the wedding business anymore, except some statues to remind visitors the not so distant memories. [2022]
Beneath the expensive residential towers lies the pedestrian shopping street of Lee Tung Street. With nothing to do with the original Lee Tung Street or the context of Wan Chai, the intentional creation of a neoclassical atmosphere for the new Lee Tung Street makes one feels like walking into a tacky movie set. [2022]
During Christmas or Chinese New Year, visitors would come to the new Lee Tung Street to take selfies with the dazzling decorations. [2020]

FAIR WINDS AND FOLLOWING SEAS: Goodbye Fenwick Pier (分域碼頭), Wan Chai (灣仔), Hong Kong

Earlier version of Fenwick Pier and the Servicemen’s Guides Association at the waterfront of Gloucester Road, with the Royal Navy Dockyard in Admiralty at the back. [Photographed in 1962, wikimedia commons, public domain]

On 2 February 2022, we had our final visit to Gia Trattoria Italiana, an Italian restaurant at Fenwick Pier in Wan Chai. Two months have passed, and we have already missed their Bistecca alla Fiorentina, lobster pasta, and all the delightful moments we spent at the restaurant. A few days after our February visit, the restaurant was closed for good, as the government decided to terminate the lease of Fenwick Pier. The pier was set for demolition and the site would be redeveloped into a fire-station. A little out of the way from the closest MTR station, the 4-storey pier building looked a little worn out, with paint peeling off here and there. Occupying a small piece of land less than 150m inland from the new Wan Chai Harbourfront, the utilitarian box structure probably wouldn’t be missed if it was just an ordinary building. But Fenwick Pier was no ordinary building. For two months before returning the closing the pier, people flocked to Fenwick Pier to photograph and bid farewell to this remnant from the colonial times. The nostalgic visitors even formed a queue outside the gate in the midst of pandemic. For the latter half of 20th Century, Hong Kong was the first port of call in Asia for many American seamen and navy personnel, while Fenwick Pier served like the arrival gateway in the city. The pier fulfilled its duty till the very end, offering foreign sailors and seamen free guidebooks, free local sim cards, transportation shuttles, tourist information, shops and services such as tailoring, hairdressing, souvenirs, etc. Local Hongkongers could also join the pier membership right at the door, so that they could enjoy the facilities in the complex. Fenwick Pier offered locals a “taste of America” from fast food to fine dining, and foreign seamen a place where they could enjoy products and services that defined the concept of East meets West.

While 2022 marks the end for Fenwick Pier, and its NGO operator, the Servicemen’s Guides Association (SGA – 香港軍人輔導會), the story began in 1953 with a humble information desk on the sidewalk next to Fenwick Street to serve the arriving American military sailors during the Korean War. Later on, the SGA was granted by the colonial government a small piece of land to establish the Fenwick Pier. The pier was moved and rebuilt a few times due to typhoon damages and land reclamation, until 1970 when the current building was erected. In 1994, Fleet Arcade (海軍商場), the 4-storey shopping centre, was founded serving mainly visiting sailors. As incoming vessels have significantly declined since 1997 and the pier became landlocked in 2016 due to land reclamation, the final demise for the pier was almost certain. At its peak, the pier received almost 100 vessels with 97,000 visitors a year. Wan Chai, the area where Fenwick Pier stood, was the official hub for all foreign sailors. Restaurants, bars, strip clubs and all sort of entertainment businesses flourished in Wan Chai, during the golden age of Fenwick Pier. After receiving 1.26 million sailors in 69 years, Fenwick Pier was finally sealed off by the government, and officially became an important piece of history for Hong Kong.

Nothing fancy about the decor of Gia Trattoria Italiana, but the decent food and harbour views made the restaurant our favorite Italian restaurant in the city. [2022]
With buffet appetizer an dessert, the restaurant was a popular place for weekend brunch. [2022]
Cheese is always important for any Italian restaurant. [2022]
The once open harbour views have been lost due to recent reclamation. [2022]
The tasty Bistecca alla Fiorentina was perfect for sharing. [2021]

***

Fenwick Pier just before permanently closing for demolition. [2022]
Windows of Gia Trattoria Italiana and the main signage of the pier. [2021]
Entrance gate of Fenwick Pier across the street from Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. [2021]
The tree at the forecourt has grown to as tall as the building itself. [2021]
Towering behind the complex, the International Financial Centre (IFC) reminded visitors how close Fenwick Pier actually was from the central business district. [2021]
The exterior facades of Fenwick Pier looked a little worn out from the corrosive marine air. [2022]
The lobby of Fenwick Pier was rather low key. [2021]
With the decorations from 1990’s, stepping in the Fenwick Pier was like stepping back in time. [2021]
Despite vessels were no longer coming, colours of the interiors reminded visitors the marine identity of the complex. [2021]
The sailor wall art was one of the most eye-catching thing in the lobby of Fenwick Pier. [2021]
The entire building of Fenwick Pier was filled with a causal ambience, like a North American school building. [2021]
Many visitors loved to take selfies at the old rickshaw and the former Mac Donald’s seating from 1990’s. [2021]
Coat of arms plaques of marine related organisations lined up on walls and columns on the ground floor of Fenwick Pier. [2021]
As numbers of foreign sailors declined in recent years, the heyday of the Fleet Arcade felt like a distant past. [2022]
Bespoke tailoring was one of the most popular services at Fleet Arcade in the good old days. [2022]
11 February 2022 was the official last day for Fenwick Pier before being closed off by the government. [2021]

OASES IN THE CULTURAL DESERT, Hong Kong Arts Centre (香港藝術中心) & Academy of Performing Arts (香港演藝學院), Wan Chai (灣仔), Hong Kong

When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to the children art workshops at Hong Kong Arts Centre (香港藝術中心) in Wanchai. I don’t remember much about my earliest ”artworks”, but I do remember bits and pieces about the Arts Centre building in the 1980’s: ceiling consisted of small triangles, exposed yellow air ducts, staircase with yellow handrails spiraling up the atrium which took me forever to climb. Today, after series of renovations, the iconic yellow ductwork and stair handrails are gone, but the Arts Centre remains as a prominent non-government institution for art exhibitions, theatre shows, film screenings, and children workshops. As a competitive commercial city where people spent most of their time working to earn a living, Hong Kong is reputed for being a cultural desert. In the 1970’s, some Hongkongers tried to do something to advocate the development of art and culture, including the late architect Tao Ho (何弢). Graduated from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, Ho studied and worked under Walter Gropius, the master of Modernist architecture and founder of the Bauhaus School in prewar Germany. Tao Ho returned to Hong Kong and established TaoHo Design Architects in 1968. In 1971, Tao Ho, Bill Bailey and King-man Lo came together to form the organization Hong Kong Arts Centre. After negotiations with the government and series of fundraising campaigns, construction of the building began in 1975 and completed in 1977. As chief architect, Tao Ho’s challenge was enormous. In a 10,000sf triangular site, Ho needed to incorporate galleries, theatre, rehearsal rooms, auditoriums, classrooms, restaurants, offices, and a four-storey atrium plus disabled facilities (first in Hong Kong) within a 16-storey building, all under a limited budget from donors. A triangular system was adopted from spatial planning, structural modules to facade treatment. From the use of functional forms, simple colour scheme, industrial materials, holistic design language, to incorporating geometric shapes into architecture, the spirit of Bauhaus is clearly shown. Since opening, Hong Kong Arts Centre has become a cultural icon in the city, exhibiting works by masters like Paul Klee and Zao Wou Ki as well as supporting the local art scenes. Before his death in 2019, Tao Ho was also responsible for a number of design projects in Hong Kong and China, including Hong Kong Pavilion for the 1986 World Expo in Vancouver, Tsuen Wan MTR Station, renovation of Hong Kong Governor House, Panda Pavilion in Ocean Park, Wing Kwong Pentecostal church, the Bauhinia emblem and the Hong Kong flag, etc.

In 2019, we finally got a chance to visit Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts (HKAPA-香港演藝學院) to watch 887, a solo play by renowned playwright, actor and stage director Robert Lepage from Quebec. Before the show, we wandered a little bit in the atrium hall, where a model of the building complex was on display, showing the two triangular blocks: the academy and theatre blocks separated by a driveway. Serving as both the main campus for performing arts education and a venue for theatre performances, the HKAPA has been a prominent establishment in Hong Kong since 1985. It was founded as the city’s only place that offers professional education on music, dance, drama, technical arts, film and television. Equipped with state of the art acoustics and stage equipment, its Lyric Theatre and other performance halls have served the audience well throughout the last three decades. Like the Arts Centre across the street, HKAPA was conceptualized during the reformative decade of Governor Murray MacLehose (麥理浩), who dramatically improved the social welfare of Hongkongers by introducing new ordinances and policies, and boldly transformed the city into a diverse metropolis with a wide range of public projects, from the metro system to satellite towns, country parks to the Ocean Park (amusement park), Jubilee Sport Centre to the HKAPA. In 1981, architect Simon Kwan (關善明) won the design competition for HKAPA. Restricted by underground utilities, Kwan uses a driveway to break the complex into two triangular volumes, academy and administrative block on one side and theatre block on the other.

The bold geometry, prominent outlines, functional planning, industrial materials, and modular structure of the Arts Centre can be traced back to the Bauhaus. [2022]
After 45 years, Hong Kong Arts Centre remains as a non-government establishment that promotes arts in the city. [2021]
Architect Tao Ho stacked a wide range of spaces including theatre, classrooms and galleries into a 16 storey building. [2021]
Despite the yellow vertical ductwork and handrails are long gone, the 4-storey atrium remains as the prominent point of arrival. [2021]
The atrium stair of the Arts Centre also serves as an exhibition space. [2021]
Many choose to climb the stairs over taking the lifts at the Arts Centre. [2021]
The triangular waffle slabs and light fixtures are pretty unique in Hong Kong. [2021]
Despite land reclamation in recent years, the Arts Centre still enjoys fine views of Victoria Harbour. [2021]
Comparing to the government managed Hong Kong Museum of Art, exhibitions at the Arts Centre are more catered for art lovers, instead of families or couples looking for selfie opportunities. [2021]
The Arts Centre building is like an artwork of architect Tao Ho, where visitors are free to explore spatially. [2021]

***

Along Gloucester Road, windows of the teaching rooms and structural bracing of the Academy Block create a geometric presence to the urban scenery of Wan Chai. [2022]
At the age of curtain walls, the simple, solid and geometric beauty of HKAPA stands as a unique example of Late Modernist architecture in Hong Kong. [2022]
Bamboos go well with the verticality of the wall cladding of HKAPA. [2022]
Bold lines on the facade and soft tree shadows form the basic aesthetics for the building elevation. [2022]
Since 1980’s, HKAPA becomes a humble beginning for many successful actors, directors, playwrights and all kinds of theatre professionals in the city. [2022]
Interlocking triangular volumes form the basis of the architectural massing of HKAPA. [2022]
A grand atrium provides a sense of arrival in the theatre block of HKAPA. [2021]
Most theatre visitors would take the escalators up to the performance halls. [2019]
At the atrium, a stone plaque says “The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts was funded and built by the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club on land granted by the Hong Kong Government.” [2021]
Three glass elevators stand as the focal point in the atrium of the theatre block. [2021]

RUNNING BELOW THE SKYLINE, Central (中環) – Wan Chai (灣仔) Promenade, Hong Kong

In 1997, the first Standard Charter Hong Kong Marathon attracted 1,000 runners. As love for the sport grows universally, the annual event in Hong Kong has gained popularity and attracted about 70,000 runners (pre-pandemic) from around the globe, defying the humid conditions to run in the subtropical heat. Despite the dominance of East African runners in the race, local participants have increased in both numbers and results in recent years. In fact, the sport has become so popular in Hong Kong that more and more running related shows are broadcasted on television, and more and more sports equipment shops have popped up in busy commercial neighbourhoods in recent years. Runners are everywhere: on sidewalks and waterfront promenades, or in parks and on trails in the countryside.

Some run for health benefits, while some run just to loosen up their minds after a long day of stress. For people who have had enough time sitting in air conditioned offices, doing an evening run is a decent alternative for going to the gym. For a city as dense as Hong Kong, it might be surprising to find that pleasant running routes are never far away. For residents on the Island side, many choose Bowen Road in Wan Chai, or Lugard Road at Victoria Peak, while on the Kowloon side, West Kowloon Art Park or Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade are the obvious choices. In recent years, the government put efforts to transform the once out of limits harbourfront areas on the north shore of Hong Kong Island into public promenades. These promenades have become instant hits for local runners. Harbourfront scenery is particularly pleasant between Central Piers and the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai when the urban skyline lit up after dusk. With such amazing backdrop, there should be no excuse for anyone not to put on their running shoes and headphones, take in the lovely views and seaside breezes, and burn some calories.

The iconic skyline of the northern shore of Hong Kong Island forms the backdrop of the waterfront promenade between Central and Wan Chai. [2020]
From Central Piers, the curvilinear Convention Centre at Wan Chai waterfront is just 1.5km away. [2020]
In recent decades, the business district has extended from Central all the way to Wan Chai. [2020]
From Central Piers, the waterfront promenade passes by the Harbourfront Event Space to Admiralty (金鐘), the commercial neighbourhood between Central and Wan Chai. [2020]
Leaving Central Piers and the setting sun behind, the promenade heads east along Victoria Harbour. [2020]
The towering Two International Finance Centre (2IFC) dominates the skyline. [2020]
In front of the government’s headquarters in Admiralty, construction work was underway to provide pockets of recreational spaces for children and families. [2020]
A runner passed by the neon light artwork on the construction hoarding in Admiralty. [2020]
In 2021, the recreational areas in front of the government headquarters opened to the public. [2021]
All these recreational spaces enjoy views of Victoria Harbour and the distant skyline of Kowloon. [2021]
Leaving Admiralty behind, the promenade arrives at the public spaces adjacent to the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai. [2020]
In a clear day, the Convention and Exhibition Centre offers fantastic views of the skyline of Central and Admiralty. [2020]
There are plenty of spaces to chill out near the Convention and Exhibition Centre. [2021]
Many runners would take a break at Convention Centre to watch the sunset. [2020]
Red skies would appear occasionally over Victoria Harbour. [2020]
From Wan Chai, spectators may notice just how narrow Victoria Harbour has become (Central of Hong Kong Island at left and West Kowloon Art District at right). [2020]
The magical moment would appear just after sunset when the skyline of Central and Admiralty begin to lit up. [2020]
The view of sunset and urban skyline from Convention Centre is breathtaking. [2020]
A few would test their luck on fishing during sunset. [2020]
Many come to photograph the sunset and Central skyline at Wan Chai Promenade. [2021]
The Convention and Exhibition Centre (香港會議展覽中心) New Wing was completed in 1997 and hosted the Hong Kong handover ceremony. [2021]
The sculpture at Golden Bauhinia Square (金紫荊廣場) adjacent to the Convention and Exhibition Centre was a gift from China for the handover ceremony in 1997. [2021]
Responsible for search and rescue, the Government Flying Service has one of their helipad outside of the Convention and Exhibition Centre. [2021]
In 2021, the Wan Chai Promenade extends eastwards to Causeway Bay. [2021]
On the newly reclaimed land, temporary public spaces have been constructed along the Harbourfront of Wan Chai. [2021]

SIX ARCHITECTS, SIX ICONS OF CENTRAL (中環), Hong Kong

For Hong Kong, skyscrapers in Central have always played bigger roles than just making money. The combined efforts of developers and architects redefine the city’s skyline for each era. [Photo: View of Central taken in Tsim Sha Tsui, 2020]
Buildings in Central have been going through cycles of urban redevelopment since the 19th century. [Photo: China Building 華人行 (top), Entertainment Building 娛樂行 (right), Central Tower 中匯大廈 (middle), Edinburgh Tower and Gloucester Tower of The Landmark 置地廣塲 (left), 2020]

Ever since the British set foot on the Island and found the City of Victoria, Central (中環) has always been the centre stage of commercial development in Hong Kong. Since 1841, the business district has never ceased evolving and expanding. In cycles of urban reincarnation, company headquarters keep on reinventing themselves every few decades. Every time a commercial building is torn down and redeveloped, company owners and commissioned architects would find an opportunity to consolidate their corporate identity and design visions, creating architecture with a certain style and building technologies that defines the zeitgeist of an era.

Apart from a few preserved colonial buildings, the current skyline of Central is pretty much defined by Modernist and curtain wall structures erected since the Central Redevelopment Scheme of 1970’s. The completion of Jardine House in 1972 as the tallest structure in Asia manifested the arrival of city’s golden period. Then came 1980’s when different design styles flourished in Central, from the geometric beauty of Exchange Square, stunning high-tech HSBC Main Building, to the complex interlocking twin towers of Lippo Centre. 1990’s and 2000’s saw the Hong Kong handover and the city’s maintaining its status as the financial hub of Far East, with Bank of China Tower and Two International Financial Centre (2IFC) challenging the height limits of the sky. From Jardine House to the IFC, six architects were responsible for contributing a small piece of his design vision to the architectural scene of Hong Kong. Their works have defied the test of time and remain as the urban icons of Hong Kong.

***

JAMES HAJIME KINOSHITA (木下一) OF PALMER & TURNER (P&T): Jardine House 怡和大廈 (Formerly Connaught Centre 康樂大廈)

Completion Date: 1972, Height: 178.5m (52 floors)

From the Japanese internment camp at Slocan of British Columbia during WWII to the architectural office Palmer & Turner (P&T) in Hong Kong in 1960’s, Canadian Architect James Kinoshita has come a long way to find his destiny. Intended to come for a short visit of his girlfriend (now his wife) in 1960, Kinoshita ended up staying in Hong Kong ever since. During his 28 years at P&T, Kinoshita brought a wave of Modernist architecture to the city when colonial buildings still dominated the skyline of Central. Apart from Modernist buildings such as Hilton Hotel, AIA Building, The Landmark, Electric Headquarter and Sui Wo Court, Kinoshita’s most well known work is probably Jardine House, the 52-storey office tower with the iconic round windows. When opened 50 years ago, Jardine House was the tallest building in Hong Kong and Asia. The project opened up the contemporary era that completely transformed Central. Half a century later, Jardine House remains as an integral part of the city’s skyline.

Architect Kinoshita credits his wife Lana as the source of inspiration for the circular windows of Jardine House. [2020]
Jardine House was the pioneer project that initiated the network of Central Elevated Walkways. [2020]

***

REMO RIVA (李華武) OF PALMER & TURNER (P&T): Exchange Square 交易廣塲

Completion Date: 1988, Height: 188m (Tower 1 – 52 floors – Tower 2 – 51 floors)

In the East Galleries of M+ Modern Art Museum, the axonometric drawing of the Exchange Square twin towers by Remo Riva is prominently on display. Remo’s drawing of the embracing geometries is part of Things, Spaces, Interactions, an exhibition that presents design objects with profound influence in Asia over the last 70 years. Similar to James Kinoshita, Swiss architect Remo Riva came to Hong Kong during the city’s blooming years and joined Palmer & Turner (P&T) in 1972. Responsible for 15 building projects in Central, such as Standard Chartered Bank Building, Entertainment Tower, the Landmark, and the Exchange Square, almost every visitor in Central would come across Remo’s works. Fully utilizing the advantages of the Central Elevated Walkways, Exchange Square opens its entrance and forecourt at the raised pedestrian network, leaving the ground floor for a transportation interchange. Apart from international banks, law firms, and foreign consulate offices, the most well known tenant in Exchange Square was the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

West of Jardine House stands the towers of Exchange Square. [Photo: Lung Wo Road, 2020]
Adjacent to the Exchange Square and Jardine House, the empty site and temporary footbridge of the Central Reclamation Phase 3 will soon be developed into a commercial complex. [Photo: Man Yiu Street, 2020]
From Connaught Road Central, entrance plaza of the Exchange Square is connected to the Central Elevated Walkways. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2022]

***

NORMAN FOSTER: HSBC Main Building 香港上海滙豐銀行總行大廈

Completion Date: 1985, Height: 178.8m (44 floors)

A client briefing of creating “the best bank headquarters in the world” summed it all up. Norman Foster won the commission of the HSBC project in 1979, which was his first project outside the UK, and also his first over three stories tall. Billed as the world’s most expensive architecture at its time and a showcase of expressive steel structure and innovative building technologies, it is no surprise that the HSBC Main Building is one of the world’s most recognizable examples of high-tech architecture, along with Centre Pompidou in Paris and Lloyd’s Building in London. The current bank building is the fourth generation headquarters of Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) in the city. Famous for its steel suspended structure, column free interior, high level of access to natural lighting, giant mirrors that reflect sunlight into the building, a 40m atrium, lightweight movable floor panels, and prefabricated components from all over the world (such as the five steel modules prefabricated by Scott Lithgow Shipbuilders in Scotland, glass, aluminium cladding and flooring from United States, and service modules from Japan), the HSBC will remain as a historical milestone for Foster and one of Hong Kong’s most iconic buildings for many years to come.

With a building cost of roughly US$668 million, HSBC Main Building was the world’s most expensive building at its time. [2021]
After 37 years, HSBC Main Building remains as a great example to exemplify innovative solutions of building technologies. [2020]
Eight steel masts and five double-storey trusses hold up a steel suspension structure to carry the load of the building, allowing a column free spaces in the middle. [2020]
The ground floor of HSBC Main Building serves as a covered plaza where pedestrians can freely walk from Des Voeux Road Central to Queen’s Road Central. [2020]
With the mega steel suspension structure, the heart of HSBC Main Building is free of columns. [2020]
Commissioned in 1935 from Shanghai based British sculptor WW Wagstaff, the two bronze lions at Des Voeux Road Central have been the guardians of the bank tower since the third generation of the HSBC Building. Near the end of WWII, the lions were shipped to Japan to be melted down. Before the lions’ planned demise, the war ended. The statues were saved by an American sailor at the dock of Osaka and eventually returned to Hong Kong. [2020]
In the past, a large Christmas tree used to be erected at Statue Square outside HSBC Main Building.

***

PAUL RUDOLPH: Lippo Centre 力寶中心 (Formerly Bond Centre 奔達中心)

Completion Date: 1988, Height: Tower 1 – 172m (44 floors), Tower 2 – 186m (48 floors)

Hongkongers are fortunate to have at least one prominent work of late Modernist master Paul Rudolph. There were originally three architectural proposals by Rudolph for Hong Kong, but only Lippo Centre was realized. Studied under Walter Gropius with classmates I.M. Pei and Philip Johnson, Paul Rudolph was widely considered to be a master of Modernist and Brutalist architecture. After leaving Yale where he chaired the Department of Architecture for six years (with students such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Robert Stern, Muzharul Islam, etc.) and erected some of his famous Brutalist buildings, Rudolph shifted his focus to international projects in Asia in his latter career. Lippo Centre was one of his final realized projects. Rudolph wrote: “The aesthetic intent is to…give the building ‘presence’ when seen at a great distance, from the middle distance, and from close distance, and from close hand. At the same time, it is intended that the building inhabit the sky, and become dematerialized by reflecting the ever changing light.” Unlike Rudolph’s concrete buildings from his earlier years, Lippo Centre is highly reflective, perhaps to suit the taste of commercial clients in Asia. To some people, the interlocking massing of the hexagonal twin towers resemble koalas climbing a tree. The playful tower design has created 58 different office plans and many corner windows, and expressed the aesthetics of complexity and layering that still impress spectators of today.

Lippo Centre presents the complex planning and rich spatial qualities of Rudolph’s projects. [Photo: Queensway, Admiralty, 2020]
The scene of Lippo Centre’s giant pillars and stacked massing have become an iconic feature in Admiralty. [2022]
Some see the facade of Lippo Centre resembling koalas climbing up a tree. [Photo: Garden Road, 2020]

***

I.M. PEI (貝聿銘): Bank of China Tower 中銀大廈

Completion Date: 1990, Height: 367.4m including roof feature (72 floors)

From JFK Presidenial Library, Le Grande Louvre to Miho and Suzhou Museum, Chinese American I.M. Pei was one of the most well known Modernist architect of his era. As Aaron Betsky writes in 2019, “with I.M. Pei’s death, the last of the modern monument makers has passed.” Pei was certainly a man who made monuments. In 1982, Pei received an offer from the Chinese government to design the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, the city where Pei spent the first decade of his childhood. Designated as the signature project to showcase China’s modernity, economic strength, and open engagement with the world, the project was more than just making a pretty bank tower, especially during the time when the British colony was preparing for its Chinese handover in 1997. When completed in 1990, It was the tallest building in Hong Kong and Asia, and the first supertall skyscraper (300m+) outside United States. Structurally, the tower was also the first composite space frame highrise with triangular frames transferring the load to the four corner columns. The powerful geometry and structural framing bring out a timeless design language that expresses the aesthetics of purity and elegance. Nothing fancy. Not a single line is unneeded. It stands as an urban monument overlooking the bustling activities of Central and Admiralty over the past three decades.

Viewing from Central, the cross framing of Bank of China Tower still looks smart and elegant after three decades of time. [Photo: Des Voeux Road Central, 2020]
No matter from which direction, Bank of China Tower will stand out from the background instantly. [Photo: The Cenotaph, 2020]
The bracing structure of Bank of China has become an icon that all Hongkongers can recognize. [Photo: Hong Kong Park, 2020]
From the street, the stone motifs near the base reveal a sense of tradition and solemnity in the design. [2022]
The design has successfully incorporated traditional motifs into the building. [2022]
Traditional Chinese gardens were used by Pei to create a green buffer from the adjacent traffic. [2022]
From Victoria Harbour, the structural frame of Bank of China Tower has stood out in Hong Kong’s skyline since 30 years ago. [2020]

***

CESAR PELLI: Two International Finance Centre (2IFC) 國際金融中心二期

Completion Date: 2003, Height: 415m including roof feature (88 floors)

As property prices and rents in Hong Kong skyrocketed in 1990’s and 2000’s, office architecture has tilted even more towards maximizing the lettable square footage than making a design statement. Notable for designing the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, World Financial Center (now Brookfield Place) in New York, One Canada Square Tower at Canary Wharf in London, Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, Wells Fargo Tower in Minneapolis, UniCredit Tower in Milan, Torre Banco Macro in Buenos Aires, and the list just goes on and on, Argentine-American architect César Pelli seemed to be the perfect fit for designing another iconic skyscraper in Hong Kong after the millennium. Before the completion of International Commerce Centre (ICC) in 2011, Pelli’s Tower Two of the International Finance Centre (2IFC) was the city’s tallest building and remains as the most notable element in today’s skyline. Apart from attracting institutions such as Hong Kong Monetary Authority or companies like Ernst & Young, Financial Times and Henderson Land Development, 2IFC is also a popular movie shooting spot, where both Lara Croft in Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003) and Batman in The Dark Knight (2008) chose to jump off from the very top. Apart from its height, the skyscraper is specialized for housing financial institutions, with 22 trading floors, advanced IT equipment, raised floor facilities and column-free spaces.

2IFC under final stages of construction back in 2003. [Photo: Cheung Kong Centre, 2003]
Three former tallest buildings in Hong Kong from left to right: Mandarin Oriental Hotel – 26 storeys, 1963-66; Jardine House – 52 storeys, 1972-80; 2IFC – 88 storeys, 2003-10
2IFC can house up to 15,000 people at work, and is equipped with double-deck elevators. [2020]
2IFC is home to some of the city’s most prestige financial institutions and businesses. [Photo: Connaught Road Central, 2020]
Due to its height, 2IFC is prominently visible from many places in Hong Kong, including the Mid Levels on the slope of Victoria Peak. [Photo: Hornsey Road, Mid Levels, 2020]
The roof feature and uplights of 2IFC serves like a beacon for the city’s skyline. [Photo: Connaught Road West, Sheung Wan, 2020]

***

Across the street from I. M. Pei’s Bank of China Tower, construction of a new 36 storey office tower had begun. World renowned design firm Zaha Hadid Architects aims to create a glassy urban oasis at this prominent location. Would this be the next generation of architectural icons in Central? [Photo: Queensway of Admiralty, 2022]