Architect Sandi Pei’s design challenge... how to adapt an art deco ‘masterpiece’ into a private banking centre

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 7:52pm

It is not easy to design a new building from scratch, but it can be even more challenging to renovate a heritage building back to its glory, according to architect Sandi Pei Li-chung who is overseeing the renovation of the historic Bank of China building.

Pei, 67, is the youngest son of I.M. Pei, the architect behind the Bank of China Tower in Garden Road, which opened on May 17, 1990, after a four year construction process.

Pei, who is the second generation of architects in the family, is working to transform the historic Bank of China building into the regional headquarters for the bank’s private banking unit.

“I don’t know how much you know of the challenges of introducing private banking facilities into the old Bank of China building,” Pei said.

Bank of China (Hong Kong) which this year will celebrate its centenary in Hong Kong, hired Pei to redesign the ground floor, second floor and eighth floor of the 15-storey old building. The renovation is expected to be completed in June.

“My duty is to recover the original character of the building which is a master piece of art deco,” he said.

Built in 1951, the old Bank of China building had served as the major office of the bank until 1990, when the 70-storey Bank of China on Garden Road was completed.

After the bank moved to its new headquarters, the old Bank of China transformed into a bank branch in 1990, requiring structural changes that involved the removal of columns and changes to the ceiling.

Pei trawled through old photos and drawings to uncover images of the original ceiling which was made with mosaic tiles.

But the column was unable to recover so he has to reconstruct with the best quality of materials available.

“We were not able to use the same marble as the original but we still managed to use high quality materials to reconstruct the column,” he said.

Pei said he designed the lobby to create a friendly atmosphere that would be a comfortable meeting point for bank representatives and private banking clients.

“The concept is to build the lobby as a lounge for the customers of the bank to meet with their bankers,” he said.

While the building is old, Pei said it will have the technology upgrade needed to needed to support digital banking.

The side entrance from Bank Street will also be renovated to make it more easily accessible while the main entrance facing the tramway line will be little changed.

“The lions in front of the building will be there and the exterior of the building will not be changed as this is a historical building,” he said.

The building’s heritage designation offers protective status that prohibits demolition while also imposing restrictions on the scope of external renovation work.

Pei said the Bank of China was supportive of his effort to bring back the original glory of the building.

which under the Hong Kong law could not be demolished while its renovation also face a lot of building.

“The Bank of China Building is in a wonderful location which is highly visible by the public,” he said.

Pei added that the building’s windows were small , which tended to keep the lobby hall on the dark side.

“I have changed the lighting and window treatment so as to let it become more open to the outdoors. The public would be able to see more from the outside of the building. This will help the building to become more engaging to the city,” he said.

In C-Suite, Sandi Pei discusses the fung shui of the Bank of China Tower