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A Grand Hotel

Text / Jessica Vahrenkamp

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The Murray building — a Modernist icon knit into the tangling road network that races up the slope of Hong Kong Island — is one of eight former government buildings scattered across the city that have been released for heritage redevelopment under the Conserving Central programme.

This includes the now-familiar PMQ mixed-used venue for arts and design, and Tai Kwun — the Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison currently in the midst of a decade-plus, US$230 million redevelopment under the supervision of Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. The Murray, similarly, once played host to key decision-making bureaus of the central government but was relieved of its official duties on completion of the nearby Tamar Park Complex in 2011, at which point its new identity was decided — it was destined to become a hotel.

But not just any hotel. ‘The Murray recalls the tradition of the grand hotels,’ says Armstrong Yakubu, a partner at Foster + Partners, which was responsible for the building’s reinvention. To highlight its unique architectural heritage, the firm undertook extensive renovations that saw the structure stripped back to its original form to reveal the clean lines and geometric volumes that identify it as a product of the 60s. Designed in 1969 by British Modernist architect Ron Phillips, the 27-storey structure was not only the tallest government building in Hong Kong at the time, it was also a beacon of progressive thinking, incorporating pioneering energy-efficient design principles. By recessing its deep square-punched windows at an angle, the design prevented direct sunlight from streaming in and reduced the need for air conditioning. (The design won a Certificate of Merit of the Energy Efficient Building Award in 1994, some 25 years after it was built). Foster + Partners worked with Phillips, now an octogenarian, throughout the conversion, welcoming both his input and nostalgic reflections on a Hong Kong of yesteryear.

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While the building was originally perched atop a multi-storey car park and slip road, the architects punched in the concrete deck for a full reveal of the building’s iconic three-storey arches, which now stand sentinel along Cotton Tree Drive. Criss-crossing behind the arches are the preserved original car ramps, now trimmed in a brass finish, and above which the unique, angular patterned lines of the unusual floor plates are laid bare — form play at its best. 

Today, guests enter through a verdant forecourt punctuated with contemporary sculptures and presided over by an ancient cotton tree.

Today, guests enter through a verdant forecourt punctuated with contemporary sculptures and presided over by an ancient cotton tree. Walking through the majestic arches into the lobby, the sense of arrival is unparalleled. Inside, the brass-trimming detail begun outside finds full expression in the form of gleaming rods that flank the voluminous lobby, imparting the space an unmistakeable air of upscale refinement. 

Responsible also for the interior design, Foster + Partners again drew on the building’s place in history, choosing an interior palette sympathetic to that period with timeless touches. Thus, white and black marble floors are paired with polished metals and glass-block partition walls, artfully contorted with raised prisms. In the guest rooms, the design ‘also takes advantage of the building’s geometry’, says Yakubu, creating uniquely oriented room layouts with cityscape views.

Though Hong Kong is home to some emblematic examples, the city’s Modernist architecture is often passed unnoticed. A stay at this forward-thinking landmark-cum-luxury-hotel offers not only a five-star experience, but also an up-close and personal encounter with a revived relic of this overlooked period.