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Local architect Stanley Siu shares his take on some of the city’s most compelling structures.

As a former British colony in Asia, Hong Kong’s architecture is reflective of its colourful, historic past. Here, east meets west with futuristic towers existing alongside designs inspired by ancient China.

Stanley Siu is the principal and founder of Daydreamers Design, an international award-winning architectural firm based in Sheung Wan, just west of Hong Kong’s main business district. “Hong Kong architecture is unique because of its historical background and political status,” Siu explains. “The architecture here developed along the river of history, traditional Chinese architecture, classical western buildings, hybrid buildings, modern skyscrapers and global landmarks.”

To better understand the city’s architectural fabric, here are Siu’s impressions on four key structures and buildings in Hong Kong:

Chi Lin Nunnery, Wong Tai Sin

Among the modern towers and housing complexes, classic architecture is harder to find in the city, which is what makes the Chi Lin Nunnery so revered. Built in the style of Tang dynasty architecture, which dates back to AD 618 to 907, the nunnery was actually founded in 1934 but taken apart and rebuilt in 2000 to make way for the construction of a tunnel.

During its reconstruction, designers used natural materials such as clay, stone and wood along with traditional techniques of assembly like mortise-and-tenon joints. Not a single nail was used in the construction of the complex. In a busy urban city like Hong Kong, Chi Lin Nunnery’s value becomes more important than ever. “It is a low-density, open and tranquil space,” says Siu. “The nunnery provides a serene environment for meditation. The traditional Chinese architecture with landscaping offers a peaceful atmosphere for contemplation.”

Opus Hong Kong, Victoria Peak

Located in one of the city’s most prestigious neighbourhoods, the Frank Gehry-designed Opus Hong Kong opened in 2012, housing just a dozen luxury residential apartments which are among the city’s most expensive. The design was apparently inspired by Hong Kong’s iconic flower, which also adorns its flag – the bauhinia, and it marked Gehry’s first residential complex built in Asia.

Set in among the hills of Victoria Peak, the exterior of Opus Hong Kong incorporates gentle curves, mimicking a flower’s petals, while external supports resemble bamboo shoots swaying in the wind. It all contributes to the organic feel Gehry strives for. “The unique form is recognisable from afar,” Siu notes. Gehry’s design of external supports also minimizes the need for load-bearing walls, allowing for open, light-filled and flexible living spaces. “The planning of the interior layout also reflects the architect’s creativity. It’s one of a kind in Hong Kong.”

Photo credit: Swire Properties

Lui Seng Chun, Mong Kok

Built in 1931 as a Chinese medicine shop on the ground floor with housing above, Lui Seng Chun exemplifies the tong lau or tenement design that was once iconic to Hong Kong. In 2012, after decades of vacancy, the building was revitalized and reopened by Baptist University of Hong Kong as a Chinese medicine and health care centre. “It reflects the local architectural style of the pre-war period and is well-known for its signature wide balcony, called kee lau,” notes Mr. Siu. “The design merges Chinese and western architecture.”

One of Lui Seng Chun’s most revered elements is its deep verandas and curved façade as it occupies a triangular-shaped lot. “The rounded-corner tong lau are diminishing in Hong Kong,” says Mr. Siu. “It is precious and essential to revitalise and protect this architecture.”

Bank of China Tower, Central

While the sharp angles on the I.M. Pei-designed building have garnered criticism from some for its negative feng shui, Siu sees the Bank of China Tower as an iconic part of the city’s fabric. “I admire the Bank of China Tower,” he says. “The building’s proportions and form are attractive to me.” Quadrants are stacked into a triangular prism while diagonal cuts allow for light-filled atriums within its design.

It’s not just the building itself that Siu admires, but also its urban landscaping. The building is set in from the street, creating a pedestrian promenade in front with water features that help to muffle sounds from busy street traffic. “It is an honour to have an architectural guru leave an imprint on our city,” says Siu. Even more impressive are the building’s structural capabilities, withstanding high winds (double than that of the Windy City of Chicago) due to the city’s typhoon-prone locations. The Bank of China Tower remains one of Asia’s most recognizable buildings.

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