Updated: Jun 20, 2021
Structure: HSBC Building
Location: Central, Hong Kong
Architect: Foster + Partners
Structural Engineer: Arup
Photography: Luke Poon and Carsten Chow
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Cooperation Limited (HSBC) was first established in British Hong Kong in 1865 by Sir Thomas Sutherland. The first HSBC office was named Wardley House, and was used from 1865 to 1882. Nowadays, HSBC is a much different company. As of 2020, HSBC is the 6th largest bank in the world and has approximately 3,900 offices in 65 countries worldwide, with 220 of those branches in Hong Kong. Suffice to say, a company with such stature and history should rightfully have a building of similar prowess. Such a building is the HSBC building, erected 47 storeys tall overlooking the harbour in Central.
The current HSBC building, designed by British architect Norman Foster, was completed in 1985, costing roughly HKD$5.2 Billion. It is the fourth main HSBC building in Hong Kong, and the third to bear the same address of 1 Queen's Road . At that time, it was named the most expensive building in the world. The building sits 180 metres high, having 47 stories and 4 basement levels. The previous HSBC building was also impressive for its time. It was the tallest building in Hong Kong at the time and was also the first building in Hong Kong to be air-conditioned.
Overall, the building has many interesting architecture choices and feats to speak of; as it was being constructed, many components of the building were built off-site and in different areas of the world. For example the building structure was made in Britain and subsequently shipped to Hong Kong, making the building highly modular.
One of the main characteristics of the building is the use of natural sunlight as a main source of light. This is achieved by having large mirrors reflecting light into the building’s 10-storey atrium to reflect sunlight, allowing the building to save massive amounts of energy. However, the environmentally-friendly nature of the building doesn’t end there, as sunshades are also used to block direct sunlight from permeating the building, reducing heat gain. The building also lacks an internal supporting structure, instead seeming more like a bridge with its suspended groups of floors from great coat-hanger trusses, yet another highly unique feature.
HSBC also has many characteristics influenced by feng. Feng shui is very prevalent in the Hong Kong skyline, with feng shui being a common chinese belief in Hong Kong. The two maintenance cranes on the roof of the building are put in such an angle that they are pointed at HSBC’s rival, the Bank of China as if they were cannons, as some sort of “deterrence”, but whether or not they actually work is up for discussion. Furthermore, there are no buildings obstructing HSBC from the view of the sea. This is also seen as an example of feng shui as having a clear and uninterrupted view of the sea allows one to prosper more compared to those who don't.
Needless to say, the HSBC building is one of the most important and stunning buildings to ever grace the streets of Hong Kong. This is owing not only to its uniqueness, forgoing conventional designs and construction methods both internally and externally, it is also due to the history of the building; the history of HSBC in Hong Kong and its impact on society. For both of these reasons, the HSBC building will continue to stand proudly as one of the crown jewels of Hong Kong architecture.
1. Interview with Norman Foster
2.The Guardian article on the HSBC building https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2015/may/28/hong-kong-hsbc-hq-bank-history-cities-50-buildings