Hong Kong culture

Top 10 Hong Kong skyscraper nicknames, from the Big Syringe to the Hong Kong Finger

Hongkongers love nicknames, and Cantonese is a great descriptive language for their tongue-in-cheek humour. Here are our favourite names for the city’s most distinctive buildings

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 8:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 March, 2017, 8:01am

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is CY 2.0, and now also 777. John Tsang Chun-wah is Mr Pringles. Hongkongers – blessed with a sardonic sense of humour – love nicknames.

That’s why, every day, thousands go to work in the Big Syringe, the Amah’s Tooth and the Mousetrap. These are just a few of the city’s architectural landmarks that locals have affectionately nicknamed.

The pet names range from simply descriptive (the Chopsticks) to the more impolite (Hong Kong Finger), and often shed light on local culture, language and the use of feng shui.

Hongkongers have a particular affinity for their urban landscape, made clear by their concern with whether modern buildings are “blessed or cursed by the defensive or offensive powers of feng shui”, says Lee Ho-yin, head of architectural conservation programmes at University of Hong Kong.

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A cluster of skyscrapers in Central are armed with “defensive” feng shui designs, he adds, from the Bank of China Building’s towering form as a long, sharp sword, to the two “cannons” atop HSBC’s headquarters.

The Bank of China building is known as “Chinese Silver Sword”, which is “something out of a Chinese martial arts novel”, Lee says.

Other epithets give insight into Hong Kong culture. Locals call the Kowloon Funeral Parlour “the Big Kowloon Hotel” to avoid talking explicitly about death, which is considered unlucky, says Little Adventures director Daisann McLane, who has lived in Hong Kong for 14 years, speaks Cantonese and runs tours in the city.

What’s in a name? Here are some of the best nicknames for Hong Kong buildings.

The Hong Kong Finger – IFC Two

The second-tallest building in Hong Kong, at 415 metres tall, IFC Two is unrivalled in its vicinity – standing out and, some say, sticking up rudely like a finger. The nickname has added weight because it’s a slender structure rounding out at the top – just like a human digit. Others say the top resembles a crown, a nod to the city’s role as a global financial hub.

The Box Bank of China Came in – Cheung Kong Center

The 62-storey Central building might have been the third-tallest building in the city when it was completed in 1999, but it was somewhat less than impressive to many Hongkongers. The building earned its nickname for its dull, box-like design – especially when compared to its angular neighbour, the Bank of China Tower.

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The Oil Rig – HSBC Building

When it was built in the 1980s, the HSBC headquarters was the most expensive building in the world, costing about HK$5.2 billion. The modular structure was designed by British architect Norman Foster, and its exterior aluminum-steel suspension structure and masts, appearing like cranes, called to mind an oil rig at sea.

The House of a Thousand A***holes – Jardine House

Also known as the Mousetrap, the 52-storey aluminum-clad tower was Asia’s tallest building when it was completed in the early 1970s. The 1,700 porthole-shaped windows of the maritime themed design earned the building its original nickname. However, during the colonial era, the sobriquet carried a message, too: it also referred to the type of individual believed to work inside.

The Koala Tree – Lippo Centre

The twin-tower Admiralty building was originally owned by disgraced Australian tycoon Alan Bond and called Bond Centre so the nickname is perhaps no coincidence. Some say its unusual design looks like cubistic koala bears climbing a tree trunk.

The Amah’s Tooth – Far East Finance Centre

Across the road from Lippo Centre, this building got its name for its shimmering golden glass facade, which makes it stand out against the grey neighbouring buildings like a gold tooth in a granny’s smile. Amah is the name for a nursemaid in East Asia or India.

The Big Cigar – Hopewell Centre

This 64-storey tower in Wan Chai is the headquarters of property company Hopewell Holdings. The city’s first circular skyscraper has a flat cylinder at its top creating the similarity to a cigar. Bands of yellow lights around the top add to the effect.

The Cat Scratch or The Big Syringe – Central Plaza

The 78-storey Wan Chai tower was Hong Kong’s answer to the Empire State Building in 1992, and was the tallest building in Asia until 1996. At night, it is lit by vertical neon lines down its gold and silver facade, which recall cat scratches in a wall. It’s also dubbed “The Big Syringe” for its distinctive pyramid-shaped top, finished with a needle-like spire.

The Little Syringe – Sino Plaza

The 38-floor commercial high-rise in Causeway Bay can’t match Central Plaza for size. Still, its cylindrical shape, flanked by two columns with horizontal yellow stripes, and a pointed needle at the top, gives it a striking resemblance to a syringe.

The Chopsticks – The Summit and Highcliff

The residential high-rises standing side by side on Stubbs Road in Happy Valley are among the tallest in the city, at 220 metres and 252 metres in height, respectively. The structures are slim, hence the nickname.