Built for the Public Works Department and other Hong Kong government offices, the Murray Building stood out for its height—a then-towering 27 stories—and the sculptural grid of its facades when it opened in 1969. Designed by British-born government architect Ron Phillips, the building was an elegantly robust concrete block lifted on arches, prominently sited in the Central district at the foot of the slopes leading up to the city’s famed Peak. It was as much a Modernist icon as Hong Kong ever produced.
But late last year, this relic of a bygone era was recast in the image of our current age—as a 336-room luxury hotel called the Murray. The renovation, led by Colin Ward and Armstrong Yakubu of Foster + Partners, remakes the building with all the luxed-up finishes the hotel’s upscale clientele might expect. But it also deftly corrects some of the original building’s shortcomings, in ways that give something back to the city as well.
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True to its time, the 1969 structure embodied conflicting notions of progress. On the one hand, its powerful facade of deeply recessed windows, oriented at 45 degrees to minimize solar gain, argued for passive cooling in a subtropical city that has since become a thicket of hermetically sealed, air-conditioned glass towers.
But another prominent design feature—a car ramp—celebrated the primacy of the automobile, dramatically snaking around the building’s core from behind its arcades. The ramp inventively connected the project to the tangle of roads around it while resolving the site’s steeply pitched grade—yet cut the building off from pedestrians and, paradoxically, the street.
The architects were sympathetic to Phillips’s work, going so far as to consult their predecessor on the redesign. “We gave him a red marker, and he went at it,” Ward says jokingly of Phillips who, at 90, lives in the United Kingdom and “remains an impassioned Modernist.” Still, there’s always room for improvement, and the conversion presented an opportunity to make what was once fortresslike more open to the city.
To begin with, Ward and his colleagues carved out a new entrance. Arriving at the hotel’s lobby and bar on the ground floor, one has little sense that it’s “sort of a found space,” Ward says. “It was back-of-house, plant rooms, buckets, mops, worn-out typewriters—you name it, it was stored there.”
Clad in white Calcutta and black marble, and screened in golden extruded-metal fins, the now generously glazed lobby shows off the kind of ruthless chic that Foster + Partners is known for. But it also opens the building toward the street, with a new plaza that creates much-needed public space. Meanwhile, the lobby soars to double-height from beneath the former car ramp, which has been repurposed as an ample pedestrian walkway, offering De Chiricoesque views from behind the building’s arches as it winds its way up in the direction of a new outdoor event space.
With its restaurants, the mezzanine level—which, due to the sloping site, also serves as an upper ground floor and secondary lobby—further strengthens the building’s links with its site. Just outside, what was once a parking lot deck (“a sea of cars,” Ward recalls) has been pulled back and transformed into black-granite-paved terraces that open to the new plaza area below. The move also liberated a protected 120-year-old cotton tree, which had long suffered the indignity of having to poke through a hole in the deck. “It was being strangled,” Ward says.
The end result is a series of interlocking outdoor spaces on multiple levels, linked by bridges, stairs, and ramps, that begins to stitch together the site’s complex topography with that of its neighbors, which include Hong Kong Park, the 1849 St. John’s Cathedral, and, a stone’s throw away, I.M. Pei’s Bank of China tower and Foster’s iconic HSBC building. Indeed, what was once an impenetrable block now acts as an intimate nexus of urban space, “a completely public walk-through that we hope becomes part of the mind map of the city,” Ward says.
Just as urbanistic, though perhaps not as public, is the firm’s rejiggering of the building’s roof. The architects convinced the client, Wharf Holdings—a large Hong Kong developer not previously known for extravagance—to move the mechanical plant, at great cost, from atop the building to a new pavilion at ground level, in order to make room for a rooftop restaurant and bar with near wraparound views of the city.
But perhaps the renovation’s key design decision was also the most obvious. Early on, Ward was unsure how the hotel rooms would be configured, given the 45-degree sawtooth of the building’s perimeter. The solution was simply to orient the rooms at the same angle. “Silly as it sounds, that was the Eureka moment,” Ward says. “We understood the building now. We’d work with it, and not fight it.”
Foster + Partners, Riverside, 22 Hester Road, London SW11 4AN, United Kingdom
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Norman Foster, Luke Fox, Armstrong Yakubu, Colin Ward, Andy Lister, Stefano Cesario, Tim Dyer , Lawrence Wong, Won Suk Cho, Benjamin Stevenson, Carl Bonas, Amy Butler, Charlotte Gallen, Catt Godon, Manuela Guidarini, Tanja Heath, Abbie Labrum, Harry Twigg, Bong Yeung
Architect of record:
Wong & Ouyang (HK) Ltd, 27/F, Dorset House, Taikoo Place, 979 King's Road, Hong Kong
Foster + Partners
Structural: Wong and Ouyang Civil Structural Engineering
Mechanical: Wong and Ouyang Building Services
Lighting: Tino Kwan Lighting
Façade Consultant: Inhabit
Cost Consultant: Rider Levett Bucknall
Landscape Consultant: Urbis
Acoustics Consultant: Campbell Shillinglaw Lau Ltd
Gammon Engineering & Construction Company Limited
Substructures, structural steel frames and reinforced concrete structure: Gammon Engineering & Construction
Metal panels: Gammon Engineering & Construction
Metal/glass curtain wall: Entasis Ltd.
Other cladding unique to this project:
Neues Sputtering Platinum gold colour vibration finish stainless steel panels: Tsukiboshi Art Co. Ltd/ Chiling Architectural Metal Ltd.
Built-up roofing: Gammon Engineering & Construction
Metal frame: Typical façade window aluminium extruded frame: Entasis Ltd.
Typical window integrated glazing unit: SYP Glass, Entasis
Podium and roof glazing panels: CSG, Guardian / GnT Glass, Entasis
Pavillion skylight: CSG/ GnT Glass, Entasis
Entrances: Bespoke stainless steel cladded framed glass doors: Entasis
Fire-control doors, security grilles: Entasis
Podium ceiling: Bespoke aluminium extruded slatted ceiling: Pat Davie
Ballroom ceiling: Philips Luminous textile panel with Ginger 2 fabric by Kvadrat soft cell
Level 2 Function Rooms: Flexifold
Level 25 Ballroom: Hufcor
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Pat Davie, Permesteelisa Hong Kong, BSc Interior Contract and Engineering
Wall coverings: Tat Ming Wallpaper
Calacatta marble wall panels: Pat Davie/ Permesteelisa HK/BSc Interior Contract and Engineering
Travertine wall panels at rooftop: BSc Interior Contract and Engineering
Bespoke ribbed leather wall at level 2: Pat Davie
Solid surfacing: Krion
Floor and wall tile:
Washroom: Ariostea large format tiles
Resilient flooring: Gym flooring: Remp Planway UR/ Pat Davie
Carpet: Argent Carpet
Noir Du Roi floor marble slabs at Podium and ballroom levels: Pat Davie / Permesteelisa HK
Grey natural stone flooring at presidential suites and rooftop levels: Pat Davie/ BSc Interior Contract and Engineering
Timber flooring: Schotten & Hansen, Inifinity JEB Architectural Finishes
Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Bespoke cast glass tile screens in podium and rooftop: Fabbian
Bespoke hand crafted glass features at podium bar and presidential suite rooms: Lasvit
Etched stainless steel lift doors: Tsukiboshi Art Co. Ltd/ Chiling Architectural Metal Ltd.
Bespoke desk and tables: Permesteelisa HK
Bespoke natural stone top reception desk: Pat Davie
Bar and restaurants:
Banquette seating: Permesteelisa HK
Leather: Alma Leather
Chairs and sofas:
Function room: Task Chair Cordia, Leo Lübke began: COR
Bar: Letizia Chair, Gastone Rinaldi: Poltrona Frau
Bar: Valeria Stool: Andreu World
Lobby: Lounge Seymour Low Sofa, Rodolfo Dordoni: Minotti
Rooftop: Executive Chair, Eero Saarinen: Knoll
Rooftop: Aston Lounge Poltroncina: Minotti
Rooftop: Aston Sofa, Rodolfo Dordoni: Minotti
Presidential Suites: Allen Sofa and stool, Rodolfo Dordoni: Minotti
Presidential Suites: Aston Armchair, Rodolfo Dordoni: Minotti
Presidential Suites: Aston Desk chair, Rodolfo Dordoni: Minotti
Presidential Suites: Ellis sofa: Content by Terrace Conran
Presidential Suites: Fri Chair: Fritz Hansen
Presidential Suites: Grace chair: Porada
Presidential Suites: Platner Stool: Knoll
Presidential Suites: Leaf table, Luca Martorano: Neutra
Presidential Suites: Fulton Writing Desk, Rodolfo Dordoni: Minotti
Presidential Suites: Eros Marble Side Table: AgapeCasa
Presidential Suites: Planter Side table: Knoll
Presidential Suites: Panther Desk: Ochre
Presidential Suites: Mad Dining Table: Poliform
Presidential Suites: Tray table: Fritz Hansen
Rooftop: Marble top Arc Table, Foster + Partners, Molteni
Bespoke restaurant and coffee tables: Permesteelisa HK/BSc Interior Contract and Engineering
Bespoke service stations, Foster+Partners design: Permesteelisa HK/BSc Interior Contract and Engineering
Bespoke bed with combined seat, Foster+Partners design: Permesteelisa HK
Bespoke wall hung Ottoman and footrest: Pat Davie
Bespoke window benches, Foster+Partners design: Pat Davie
Bespoke wall hang credenza, Foster+Partners design: Pat Davie/ Permesteelisa HK
Interior ambient lighting:
Presidential Suite: Table Lamp, Louis Poulsen
Presidential Suite: Tab LED T: FLOS
Presidential Suite: Taccia Small: FLOS
Presidential Suite: Droplets pendant lighting: Lasvit
Podium bespoke pendant lighting, Foster+Partners design: Pat Davie, Permesteelisa Hong Kong
Rooftop bespoke light features: Fabbian
Rooftop Pendant lighting: ORSA Artemide, Foster + Partners
Downlights: ModuleX, Iguzzini
Dimming system or other lighting controls: Lutron
Taps: Dornbracht and Vola
Toilet: Toto and Duravit