In a design world abuzz with the comings and goings of starchitects, the unusual design of Hysan Place would seem to be the result of one architect’s stroke of inspiration jotted in a notebook between films on a flight to Asia. Elevated gardens break through the mass of the 716,000-square-foot, 36-story skyscraper, dislocating blocks of offices and stores, in a new high-rise paradigm—the first of its kind built in Hong Kong, and maybe the world.
But the architects at Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) operate by the service rather than the genius principle, and rather than issuing take-it-or-leave-it design ultimata to clients, the architects listen—absorbing feedback in a dynamic design process of many iterations. Reacting to an earlier proposal, their client, Hysan’s late chairman Peter Lee, said he wanted the most sustainable building in Hong Kong. Was there a solution that would move air through the building to refresh the surrounding streets? He wanted to summon the breezes of more verdant times when the Causeway Bay neighborhood, now densely packed and stacked with offices and stores, was called Lee Gardens.
In a collaborative effort, KPF principals Bill Louie, FAIA, Paul Katz, FAIA, and Rob Whitlock, AIA, proposed sky gardens that penetrate the LEED Platinum building on several levels: The floor area ratio would stay the same, but the building would grow taller in the Z dimension, stacked with cubes of retail, office, and open space. All the blocks are served by outdoor spaces, which give each a separate identity; users can escape the office or shopping for the pleasures of an urban garden with a breeze and a view. The building would not just be a single-use monolith punctured by a couple of holes.
Hong Kong itself is a 19th century colonial creation, but Hong Kong as a commercial pressure cooker is a recent phenomenon, and the city’s rapid and rabid urban development from semirural environment to hyper urbanization has generated new building types. Escalating land values have accelerated the urban and architectural evolution of the city. High real estate values drove developers to build up, creating a dominantly vertical city, with a premium on retail. “Shopping in Hong Kong is basically a sport,” Louie says. A new network of bridges between recently constructed buildings added value to upper stories and have created opportunities for retail where retail had never gone before.
Primarily because of the value of retail space reaching many stories above grade, architecture in Hong Kong is a matter of complexity in the vertical dimension, and not just a matter of extruding up from a floor plan. “People in Hong Kong accept complicated vertical routes,” says Whitlock, who served as the project architect.
Absorbing the suggestion of their client, the architects broke the tight, closed mass of the typical point tower, endowing the building type with a Swiss cheese section. The simple program of an office tower sitting atop a commercial base had a long precedent in Hong Kong that was already written into zoning. In Causeway Bay, it was the context that was complex, exerting multiple demands on the design.
The trapezoidal site fronts busy Hennessy Road to the north, dense with commercial high-rises, and a narrow lane, crowded with low-rise structures built in the ’30s, to the south. The site lies between two busy MTR stops along Hong Kong’s main subway line, which regularly flushes the area with people. The building needed easy access to each stop as well as a clear, accessible path between them. “Ninety percent of the people come up from the MTR,” Whitlock says. The architects had to make sure the access to and from the subways was open, fluid, and direct, so that flows of people could surge into the building, infusing the base with shoppers.
The first area of spatial negotiation was the surgical separation of workers headed for the office tower from shoppers moving toward the nine floors of retail in the lower podium. Those going to the offices embark on dedicated elevators placed at the edge of the floor plate, rising up to a sky lobby that acts as a transfer floor to the office tower.
Shoppers entering from the subway are immediately greeted by escalators in an inner courtyard of the basement that leads up to the retail levels. Shoppers can also take skip-stop elevators, or express, skip-stop escalators superimposed on the front façade of the building, à la the Pompidou Center in Paris.
The retail podium has the porosity of a sponge. The designers subdivided the shopping mall into two sections, nine stories in the lower podium (including two basement levels) and nine in the box above. In one of the great spatial teases of modern shopping, escalators move up and through the podiums, which are designed with curving organic floor plates around central atriums to avoid the monotony of stacked floors. The architects shifted these retail floor plates, creating the effect of terraces that overlook a void with a morphing vertical profile, resulting in a “labyrinthine quality that makes it Piranesian,” Katz says. Visitors move through the space via escalators, which move to another position in the plan midway up the podium, resetting the experience and starting the shoppers’ climb over again.
Each of the shopping levels is unique in plan, with smaller, more expensive stores in the lower block. A two-story, 24-hour bookstore acts as a magnet in the upper podium, but the ultimate draws are the restaurants on the top three floors and a food court a floor below, which work two ways: Restaurants draw people up through the retail and office workers down from the offices above. “Eating is everything in Hong Kong retail,” Louie says. Visitors can exit the building at the sky gardens adjacent to the stores to sit in a parklike setting.
The developer wanted to be able to program the upper podium, which is now used for retail, for offices as well, depending on market opportunities. The architects designed it as fungible swing space. Similarly flexible, the office tower above was structured so that if the developer should acquire air rights from neighboring buildings, more floors could be added simply by extending the elevator core. “The idea about sustainability is to transform over time so it doesn’t have to be rebuilt,” Whitlock says.
KPF has often used collage as a strategy to build flexibility into its buildings, breaking monolithic masses into parts so that interior functions can be separated and identified. At Hysan Place, the lower podium denotes shopping and the tower offices, but parts of the upper podium can accommodate either use. The building is like a piston of uses that can go up or down, depending on the relative markets for retail and office: Currently stores are at a premium, so they are pressuring retail up.
It’s a measure of the building’s success that Apple, with its nose for cool locations, now occupies the most prominent corner cube near the street. “So many people wanted to come [to Hysan Place] when it opened, that they had to issue tickets: It was an event,” Whitlock says. “In a city of just 7 or 8 million, a half million people came to visit in the first 24 hours. The whole building became a civic place.”
Project Hysan Place, Hong Kong
Client Hysan Development Co.
Architect Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates (KPF), New York—Robert Whitlock, AIA, William Louie, FAIA (design principals); Paul Katz, FAIA (managing principal); Bruce Fisher, AIA (senior designer); Charles Ippolito, AIA, Nathan Wong (project managers); Fernando Flores, Florence Chan, AIA (job captains); Daniel Dadoyan, AIA (senior designer, interiors); Roland Kang
Associate Architect Dennis Lau and Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers
Interior Designer Benoy (retail interiors)
M/E/P & Vertical Transport Engineer Parsons Brinckerhoff Asia
Structural Engineer Meinhardt
Sustainability Engineer Arup
Landscape Design Urbis
Lighting Design Lighting Planners Associates
Exterior Walls ALT Cladding & Design; Permasteelisa—Joseph Gartner
Acoustic Consultant Shen Milsom Wilke
Signage Consultant Graphia Brands
Quantity Surveyor David Langdon & Seah
General Contractor Gammon Construction
Renderers Visualhouse, Superview
CAD System Autocad, Rhino
Size 66,511 square meters (715, 917 square feet)
Material and Sources
Adhesives, Coatings, and Sealants PPG aluminum coating ppg.com
Curtainwall Permasteelisa permasteelisausa.com; Gartner
Doors Dorma dorma.com; Kaba kaba.com
Glass China Southern Glass Architectural Glass (CSG) csgglass.cn