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HSBC Building

Hongkong, China
1 of 2

HSBC Main Building (Chinese: 香港滙豐總行大廈) is a headquarters building of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, which is today a wholly owned subsidiary of London based HSBC Holdings. It is located along the southern side of Statue Square near the location of the old City Hall, Hong Kong (built in 1869, demolished in 1933). The previous HSBC building was built in 1935 and pulled down to make way for the current building. The address remains as 1 Queen's Road Central. The building can be reached from Exit K of Central MTR Station and facing Statue Square.


The first HSBC (then known as the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Company Limited) building was Wardley House, used as HSBC office between 1865 to 1882 on the present site. In 1864 the lease cost HKD 500 a month. After raising a capital of HKD 5 million, the bank opened its door in 1865. It was demolished in 1886 and rebuilt in the same year.

The main feature of the second building design was the division of the structure into two almost separate buildings. The building on Queen's Road Central was in Victorian style with a verandah, colonnades and an octagonal dome, whereas the arcade which harmonised with the adjacent buildings was constructed on Des Voeux Road.

In 1935, the second building was demolished and a third design was erected. The third design used part of the land of the old City Hall, and was built in a mixed Art Deco and Stripped Classical style. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, the building served as the government headquarters. Locally, it was the first building in Hong Kong to be fully air-conditioned.

By the 1970s the bank had outgrown its headquarters; departments were scattered into offices all over Central Hong Kong, and it was obvious that such a "solution" to the space limitations could not continue indefinitely. In 1978 the bank decided to tear down its headquarters and rebuild it again. The building was finished on November 18, 1985. At the time, it was the most expensive building in the world (c.a.HK$5.2 billion, roughly US$668 million).

The first major addition to the building, designed by Hong Kong's One Space Ltd, was completed on November 23, 2006, in the form of a ground floor lobby that improves security access to the upper floors and creates a prestigious reception area. Its design and construction included the installation of the "Asian Story Wall", a multimedia installation consisting of twin banks of 30 seamless plasma screens (the largest installation of its kind in Hong Kong) displaying archived bank heritage and artworks.

The atrium of the HSBC building was the site of the Occupy Hong Kong protests which maintained a presence in the building from October 15, 2011 until their eviction in September 2012.


The new building was designed by the British architect Lord Norman Foster and Civil & Structural Engineers Ove Arup & Partners (J. Roger Preston & Partners Engineering) and was constructed by Wimpey International. From the concept to completion, it took 7 years (1978-1985). The building is 180-metres high with 47 storeys and four basement levels. The building has a module design consisting of five steel modules prefabricated in the UK by Scott Lithgow Shipbuilders near Glasgow, and shipped to Hong Kong. 30,000 tons of steel and 4,500 tons of aluminium were used.

The original design was heavily inspired by the Douglas Gilling designed Qantas International Centre in Sydney (currently known as Suncorp Place).

The new Lobby and its 2-part Asian Story Wall were designed by Greg Pearce, of One Space Limited. Pearce was also the Principal Architect of the Hong Kong Airport Express (MTR) station. Conceived as a minimalist glass envelope, the new lobby is designed to be deferential to Foster's structure and appears almost to be part of the original.

The building is also one of the few to not have elevators as the primary carrier of building traffic. Instead, elevators only stop every few floors, and floors are interconnected by escalators.


The main characteristic of HSBC Hong Kong headquarters is its absence of internal supporting structure.

Another notable feature is that natural sunlight is the major source of lighting inside the building. There is a bank of giant mirrors at the top of the atrium, which can reflect natural sunlight into the atrium and hence down into the plaza. Through the use of natural sunlight, this design helps to conserve energy. Additionally, sun shades are provided on the external facades to block direct sunlight going into the building and to reduce heat gain. Instead of fresh water, sea water is used as coolant for the air-conditioning system.

All flooring is made from lightweight movable panels, under which lies a comprehensive network of power, telecommunication, and air-conditioning systems. This design was to allow equipment such as computer terminals to be installed quickly and easily.

Because of the urgency to finish the project, the construction of the building relied heavily on off-site prefabrication; components were manufactured all over the world. For example, the structural steel came from Britain; the glass, aluminium cladding and flooring came from the United States while the service modules came from Japan.

The inverted 'va' segments of the suspension trusses spanning the construction at double-height levels is the most obvious characteristic of the building. It consists of eight groups of four aluminium-clad steel columns which ascend from the foundations up through the core structure, and five levels of triangular suspension trusses which are locked into these masts.Feng Shui

The early British settlers in Hong Kong had an interest in Feng Shui; thus, most of the earliest buildings in Hong Kong, and many buildings constructed thereafter, were built with the philosophies of Feng Shui in mind. The Chinese believe that those who have a direct view of a body of water-whether it is a river, a sea, or an ocean-are more likely to prosper than those who do not (water is strongly associated with wealth in Feng Shui). The HSBC building has a wide open area (the Statue Square) in front of it, with no other buildings blocking its view of Victoria Harbour; thus, it is considered to have "good feng shui."

Even though the Hong Kong Government is proposing extending the existing coastline further out into the harbour in its latest land reclamation project, it will still set aside space so that no new developments will block the HSBC Building's view of the harbour.

Lion statues

Main article: HSBC lionsLeft lion statue (Stephen)Right lion statue (Stitt)The lion statues of HSBC Main Building

When HSBC decided to build its third Headquarters at 1 Queen's Road Central, opened in 1935, it commissioned two bronze lions from Shanghai-based British sculptor W W Wagstaff (d 1977, aged 82). This commission was inspired by two earlier lions that had been ordered for the new Shanghai office opened in 1923. Cast by J W Singer & Sons in the English town of Frome, to a design by Henry Poole RA, these lions had quickly become part of the Shanghai scene, and passers-by would affectionately stroke the lions in the belief that power and money would rub off on them. They became known as Stephen and Stitt: an in-joke. Stephen was named for A G Stephen, formerly Manager Shanghai, and in 1923 the Chief Manager of HSBC, and G H Stitt, the then Manager Shanghai. Stephen is depicted roaring, Stitt quiescent, and again insiders said that this represented the characters of these two famous bankers.

Wagstaff worked with "Shanghai Arts and Crafts" foreman Chou Yin Hsiang who in an interview with John Loch of HSBC's house magazine "Group News" in June 1977 recalled that when he first joined Arts and Crafts he worked with Wagstaff for two years to make the lions, without having to learn a word of English: Wagstaff spoke perfect Shanghai dialect. Hunch-backed, Wagstaff was nicknamed "Lao Doo Pei", meaning "Old Hunchback". His son, inevitably, was called "Sau Doo Pei" - "Young Hunchback." Wagstaff had two sons - Don, killed in Naval service in the war, and Alex, killed while interned in Shanghai by the Japanese. Chou Yin Hsiang himself came to Hong Kong in 1935, and by 1977 was the proprietor of Jeh Hsing Metal Works - and still casting bronze for HSBC.

Like the Shanghai lions, the Hong Kong lions became objects of veneration, and focii of the Bank's perceived excellent feng shui. Young couples still bring their toddlers to stroke the paws and noses of the statues hoping for luck and prosperity.

When the 1935 building closed its doors for the last time on June 26, 1981 the Lions had been moved to the annexe on June 19, 1981. Demolition, by China Swiss Engineers, started on July 6, 1981. The lions were temporarily moved on 4 June 1982 to Statue Square, opposite the main entrance. As a mark of the respect the lions were held in, the move to Statue Square, and the move back in 1985, were accompanied by the Chairman Sir Michael Sandberg and senior management of the Bank and the placement of the lions both temporarily and in their current locations was made only after extensive consultations with feng shui practitioners.

Their 4-year sojourn in the annexe and Statue Square aside, the lions have only left their positions as guardians of the Des Voeux Road entrance of the Bank once: they were confiscated by the Japanese and sent to Japan to be melted down. Luckily the war ended before this could happen, and the lions were recognised by an American sailor in a dockyard in Osaka in 1945. They were returned a few months later and restored to their original positions in October 1946.

The Hong Kong lions are also called Stephen and Stitt, and the Hong Kong Stephen has bullet or shrapnel scars in its left hind-quarters dating from the fighting in the Battle of Hong Kong. When this pair of lions was used as the model for the pair commissioned for the new UK Headquarters of HSBC in 2002, Zambian-born New Zealand sculptor Mark Kennedy was asked not to reproduce these "war wounds" in the copies. They had to earn their own battle-scars.

Lighting scheme

In 2003, the Hong Kong Tourism Board developed a harbour lighting plan called "A Symphony of Lights", a large-scale multimedia show featuring lighting, laser, music, and occasionally special pyrotechnics effects during festivals, in order to promote tourism in Hong Kong. The show is based on the illumination of key buildings on the Hong Kong Island side, and is best viewed from the Kowloon side across the Victoria Harbour. The HSBC Hong Kong headquarters building is one of the participating buildings in the show. The building has been installed with 716 intelligent lighting units, including 450 Martin Professional Cyclo 03 colour changing fluorescent fixtures in the glass stairwells, Martin Professional Exterior 600's and Exterior 200 fixtures on five levels, 8 search lights, and over one kilometre of LED lighting around the top. Completed by mid-December 2003, the cost of installation is estimated to be HK$5.5 million.

Intelligent lighting is distributed across six sections of the building:

Vertical Ladder TrussesExoskeleton: Inner + OuterRefuge FloorsNorthwest StairwellEastern StairwellsRoof Building Maintenance Units

HSBC has always aimed to adopt a new lighting scheme because Foster did not pay much attention to the illumination of the building at nighttime.

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mariathuroczy, January 30th, 2014
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