Over several decades of designing together, Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have steadfastly emphasized the serene and assured manipulation of spaces, planes, and materials, and exhibited an impeccable sense of craft. In addition, they have cannily united large- and small-scale architectural elements into integrated compositions, as seen in their new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia and 'now possibly threatened with demolition' their Folk Art Museum in New York City. But in their design for the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, completed in 2012, they took on even more challenges. Their scheme shows the firm's prowess at blending architecture into the landscape while balancing new construction with renovated historic structures.
Immersed in the lush hills of the Admiralty area of Hong Kong Island, the Asia Society's new 65,000-square-foot center occupies more than 3 acres of rainforest that had been the Explosives Magazine Compound for the British Army. There, between 1860 and 1907, the colonial rulers had created two ammunition-storage facilities and a munitions lab at the top of the steep site, with earth berms positioned between them in case of explosions. A fourth building, named GG Block, was constructed in the 1940s on the lower part of the hill for the Royal Military Police. By the 1980s the ammunitions complex had been abandoned, and in 1999 the Hong Kong branch of the Asia Society succeeded in leasing the property from the city'which by then had been transferred from British to Chinese rule.