Hong Kong's waterfront is one of the world's most familiar panoramas. Backed by the hills rising to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong's financial and commercial centre includes a number of remarkable buildings.
Without doubt one of the most eye-catching is the headquarters of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited, designed by renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster.
Since its founding in 1865, the site of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited's successive
headquarters buildings has remained the same. Viewed by the Bank as a long-term asset, the present building was
commissioned in 1980 and completed in November 1985. It was designed for the Bank's exclusive use by Sir Norman Foster
and is considered one of the finest and most innovative bank buildings in the world.
The project called upon all Foster's ingenuity. The Bank required a very much larger building but it had to fit on the original site area; its interior layout needed to be as flexible as possible to accommodate new technology and the changing needs of a fast-expanding organisation until well into the next century; and it had to be constructed quickly on a very confined site.
Foster's solution was to design a building the construction of which would rely on an exceptionally high degree of off-site prefabrication. Components were manufactured all over the world. The structural steel came from Britain;
the glass, aluminium cladding and flooring from the United States; the service modules from Japan. All these had to
fit together perfectly on site, calling for a degree of precision in engineering and assembly never
before attempted in the construction of a building.
The most conspicuous features of the building are the eight groups of four aluminium-clad steel columns, which rise from the foundations up through the main structure, and the five levels of triangular suspension trusses which are locked into these masts. From these trusses are suspended five groups of floors. They can be seen clearly on the outside of the building -- the inverted 'v' sections of the suspension trusses span the structure at double-height levels -- giving the building much of its distinctive character.
By the use of bridge engineering techniques, and by locating all services
in prefabricated modules hung on the east and west sides of the building, Foster eliminated the need for a central core, creating large, unobstructed floor areas that are the key to the building's flexibility and efficiency.
The emphasis on flexibility is apparent throughout the building. All flooring is constructed from lightweight movable panels made from the same material as that used for aircraft floors. The panels, which may be covered with carpet tiles or other materials, can be lifted to reveal a comprehensive network of power, data, telecommunication and air-conditioning systems. Computer terminals or other such pieces of equipment can be installed easily with minimum disturbance.
Similarly, all internal walls are made up of movable partitions so that office layouts can be changed and modified as required, without the need for any structural alterations.
The building is divided into five zones. These zones, and the double-height levels which separate them, form an integral part of the concept of movement around the building. Express lifts travel from the plaza to the double-height areas, while movement between the floors in each zone is by escalator. Altogether there are 62 escalators in the building.
At ground level, beneath the building, an open public area has been created without any loss of office space. On entering
this plaza what first strikes most visitors is the spectacular atrium rising 170 feet through 11 levels
of the building. The public banking areas are situated around the atrium and are reached from the plaza by the longest
freely supported escalators in the world.
At the top of the atrium is a bank of giant mirrors. These form part of an innovative, computer-controlled sunscoop that reflects natural sunlight into the atrium and down to the plaza.
Open-plan offices surround the atrium, allowing staff to work under natural light, while noise levels are controlled by means of careful acoustic engineering. Sophisticated building management computers automatically keep light and temperature at constant levels.
On either side of the atrium in the banking halls on Levels 3 and 5 are black marble banking counters, manufactured
in Italy; set into these counters for customers' use are solar-powered calculators. The absence of screens,
improving contact between tellers and customers, provides unobstructed views through the full-height windows across
the harbour to the north, and towards the Peak to the south. A highly advanced and unobtrusive security
system is in operation throughout the building.
Much of the building's new technology is unseen even by those who work in it. From the underfloor air-conditioning to the document-handling car system, many of the services are the most sophisticated yet developed.
The headquarters building set new standards for the banking industry as well as for architecture and construction. A sophisticated construction designed to serve the Bank's needs well into the twenty-first century, the building symbolises the forward-looking, adventurous spirit which characterises both the Bank and its home of Hong Kong.