80 Robinson Road
Mid-Levels on Hong Kong
Island is an area full of history. In the days when the sea lapped
at Queen's Road Central, a century ago, it was the home of the burgeoning
Chinese middle class. They built their communities there: houses
with a mix of colonial and Chinese architectural styles; schools
and hospitals. To support their local flock, missionaries also set
up bases in the area, creating a space where East and West blended
in perfect harmony.
Much of the old
structures have since disappeared, but one project provided an opportunity
to blend, this time, the old and the new.
oldest public healthcare
institution, the Nethersole Hospital, had stood at the junction
of Caine Road and Bonham Road since 1893. It had undergone a series
of mergers and expansion through the years but, by the 1980s, it
had become clear that it was both too small and too outdated to
provide the kind of healthcare modern residents needed. As a result,
the hospital was allocated a new, much larger site in Tai Po and
the 5,656 sq m site in Mid-Levels was freed up for redevelopment.
The site was purchased
by Nan Fung Development Ltd and turned into an upmarket residential
complex that commands a harbour view to the north and offers convenient
access via two of the area's
key transport arteries.
78-80 Robinson Road/10
Bonham Road, as the residential development is now known, comprises
two towers, one 140 m high and the other 146 m, with a total of
264 apartments. There is also a podium which accommodates a car
park and gymnasium.
Many sites in the area
were completely cleared to make way for new residential developments
during the property boom of the 1990s, but this project was different.
The original London Mission Building, a two-storey high colonial
structure built in the late 19th century, remains. Also, the new
residential complex stands next to the Hop Yat Church, another historical
"The old Nethersole
Hospital obscured the view of the church; we wanted to address that,"
said T C Yuen, director (design) of the architect Ma Leung &
To give the view back
to the church, the towers were set back from the Bonham Road frontage.
Now the church stands in a foreground with the residential towers
as a complementary backdrop.
The setback created space
for a driveway which leads to a grand lobby on the one hand and
a ramp leading up to the car park on the other. A ramp is usually
tucked away in an obscure corner of a building or heavily masked.
In this case, the architect did neither: he turned it into a dramatic
drum which dominates the north frontage instead.
The podium sits on a
series of setbacks cut into a steep slope on which an excavation
limit has been imposed in case the ground is destabilised by work
to create a level platform. Since the setbacks mean less space per
level of the podium, a higher podium was designed to house the 260
parking spaces and gym. A geological problem was thus turned into
a visual advantage: the residential units are pushed higher, thus
giving them an even better view.
To increase the visibility
of the development, the clear glass-clad gymnasium was placed at
the top of the drum, from where the soft glow it emits at night
will increase the visibility of the complex. The light will also
echo the glow from the inverted cone at the bottom of the drum,
a device the architect came up with to mask building services installations
in the ground floor lobby and to provide a focal point for residents.
With fins projecting from the top edge, the whole resembles a gigantic
lantern resting at the base of the towers.
The London Mission Building,
which is located at the Robinson Road frontage, was almost demolished
to make way for a wider road and more open space, but the architect
persuaded the Town Planning Board to intervene. Then the developer
was persuaded to preserve the building as a point of interest.
But how could one incorporate
a two-storey building with arched verandahs and Doric columns typical
of the classical colonial architecture of late 19th century Hong
Kong into a towering modern residential development? To the architect,
the answer was simple.
"Since the scale
of the two buildings is so different we don't have to worry about
a conflict of architectural styles. The London Mission Building
can stand by itself," Mr Yuen said.
Due to modern building
regulations, the interior proved more of a challenge. The architect
preserved what was considered worth preserving in the simple colonial
building, namely the central staircase, the windows and the fireplace.
Other elements of the structure were changed during its conversion
into a clubhouse.
"Fire escape provisions
as stipulated in the regulations would have destroyed the central
staircase. We had to negotiate for that and many other exemptions,"
Mr Yuen recalled.
Now the London Mission
Building stands as a point of entry into the development, comfortably
holding its own against the high-rise backdrop.
The two residential towers
were not only carefully sited with due regard for the two historical
buildings, they were also carefully oriented to capture as much
harbour view as possible. According to the architect, a decision
was taken to follow the city grid's
alignment so that the towers would face Victoria Harbour. At the
same time, they were set at an angle to avoid tall buildings to
Each tower has four units
per floor ranging in size from 80 sq m to 98 sq m. Externally they
are vertically organised into a series of projecting or receding
shafts to generate a play of light and shadow that is enhanced by
the contrast between the green-tinted windows and white walls. The
mass of the tower blocks is thus further broken up while the resulting
recesses provide the perfect place for concealing ducting. On the
more visible surfaces, perforated metal panels relieve the monotony
while masking split-type air-conditioning units. Other devices were
used to add interest and establish a dialogue between the two towers,
including the use of fins in the middle of the buildings and metal
projections from the roof. The scale is mitigated by the use of
slightly different window details, with the duplexes at the top
being fully glazed and metal panels adding interludes to the vertical
rhythm of the exterior.
Determined to ground
the complex so that it would relate on a human scale, the architect
made a point of creating a visual connection between the towers
and the ground by bringing one shaft, complete with glazing, down
to the pavement. Where the podium is brought down to the level of
the pedestrians by a steep footpath running between the church and
the development, the architect used dark coloured tiles to highlight
a tower housing the back stairway and added detail where the development
would be viewed up close rather than at a distance.
Other details include
the use of square studs on the wall along the driveway to mask the
soil nails used for slope stabilisation while dramatising the entrance;
a circular fountain echoing the geometry of the drum; and palms
trees along a landscaped strip in front of the driveway creating
a soft boundary.
Completed in June 2001
after five years of development, the complex now towers above the
old district, tall and new yet in touch with the neighbourhood.
Nan Fung Development Ltd
Ma Leung & Associates
Chun Yip Construction
Ho & Lam Consulting
Thomas Anderson &
interior deisgner -- London Mission Building