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Asia Society Hong Kong Center

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners, AGC Design, Associated Architects

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Sara Johnson, Hanley Wood Media

Project Name

Asia Society Hong Kong Center


Project Status


Year Completed



65,000 sq. feet


Asia Society Hong Kong Center



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Text by Ian Volner

Over the last 40 years, Tod Williams, FAIA, and Billie Tsien, AIA, have built a reputation in the field as gifted improvisers—devotees of a lively and versatile model of practice that starts fresh every time and distills each brief to its conceptual essence. For the Asia Society in Hong Kong, the New York–based pair faced a unique challenge: Ranging along a hillside in the heart of the city, the long-disused site included three historic buildings formerly used by the colonial British military, as well as a riverbed and an additional early 20th century building that lay beyond. To navigate this hilly site and fully renovate and convert the existing structures to hold new offices, a theater, and an art gallery, Williams and Tsien needed to develop a scheme that is about procession through the site and the spaces that sit upon it. Anchoring the design is a new 11,000-square-foot pavilion, clad in slabs of dark green stone, with amenities that include a restaurant and visitor center. To connect the structures and bridge a ravine on site, the designers added a double-decker pedestrian walkway configured in a jagged V, surrounded by lush vegetation and dramatically illuminated at night. More impactful, the roof of the new pavilion is topped with a landscaped garden, an idyllic spot with expansive views that also forms a picturesque prospect for all the buildings looking down on it. The Asia Society’s mission—to promote regional culture and encourage international understanding—called for a building that was simultaneously forward-thinking and deeply rooted to its place. Williams and Tsien’s solution—with its emphasis on building as a physical connector between, and pathway to, disparate spaces—is the perfect response. Another notch in the belt for two of the leading lights of global architecture.

Project Credits
Project: Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Hong Kong
Owner: Asia Society Hong Kong
Design Architect: Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners, New York . Tod Williams, FAIA, Billie Tsien, AIA (principals); William Vincent, Robin Blodgett, Johnny Cho, David Later, Aurelie Paradiso, Miriam Petersen, John Skiller, Elisa Testa, Jennifer Turner (project team)
Owner’s Rep: Patrick Chung & Associates
Associate Architect (Core and Shell): AGC Design, Hong Kong
Associate Architect (Interiors): Associated Architects, Hong Kong
Structural Engineers: Severud Associates; Arup
Mechanical Engineers: Altieri Sebor Wieber; J. Roger Preston Co.
Civil/Geotechnical Engineer: Arup
Restoration/Preservation Consultant: Architectural Resources Group; Ivan C.C. Ho
Landscape Consultant: ADI Limited
Theater Consultant: Fisher Dachs Associates
Lighting Consultant: Arup
Curtainwall Consultant: Axis Group Limited
Water Feature Consultant: Dan Euser Waterarchitecture
Stone Consultant: Walker Zanger
Acoustical: Acoustic Dimensions
Specifications: Construction Specifications
Estimator: Langdon & Seah
General Contractor (Core & Shell): Hip Hing Construction Co.
General Contractor (Interiors): Yearfull Contracting
Size: 65,000 gross square feet
Cost: Withheld

This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of ARCHITECT magazine.

Project Description


The Asia Society was founded in New York in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller III and is an educational organization dedicated to fostering understanding of the countries and cultures of Asia and to illuminating global issues that affect all regions.

The Asia Society Hong Kong Center was founded in 1990 by a group of local Hong Kong business leaders. The new Center, which opened in 2011, is situated on a steeply sloping site in the heart of Central Hong Kong. This formerly derelict site has been transformed into an active complex for lectures, seminars, conferences, cultural programs, art exhibitions, performances, and films.

The new Center sits in a rain forest surrounded by skyscrapers. The project combines new construction and the transformation of four mid-19th and early 20th century buildings, some of the oldest colonial military structures in Hong Kong. The buildings sit on two sites divided by a nullah – a channel often filled with rushing water. At the upper site, three heritage buildings once used by the British to manufacture and store munitions are separated by two large stone-walled earth berms built to deter explosions. This complex has been restored and renovated for use as offices, theater and gallery. A covered walkway inspired by those seen in traditional Chinese courtyards connects the buildings. On the lower site a structure from the 1930s was restored and a new low building clad in dark green stone from southern China serves entrance and public face of the Asia Society. It is used as an education and conference center and also holds a restaurant, store and visitor amenities. 

But it is the roof terrace of the new building that is the most public of all the façades because everyone looks down on it. The terrace floats in the city and extends to become a two-story angled bridge weaving between the trees connecting the two sites. The new Asia Society is a quiet and strong building that is connected to its site. It is a horizontal building in a vertical city.
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