The Bank of China

The architect family behind Hong Kong’s Bank of China Tower

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 3:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 3:48pm

The iconic Bank of China Tower on Garden Road in Central is one of Hong Kong’s landmark buildings – a “masterpiece” designed by well known architect I.M. Pei.

Pei’s son Sandi Pei Li-Chung, 67, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become an architect in New York, spent eight years helping his father design for the 70-storey tower which, when completed in 1990, was the tallest building in Hong Kong.

The Pei family has a strong relationship with Bank of China. Sandi Pei’s grandfather, Pei Tsu-yee, was the first general manager to head the Hong Kong office of Bank of China before world war two.

Sandi Pei is the third of four children by I.M Pei, who will turn 100 year this year – the same age as Bank of China in Hong Kong. Sandi and his second eldest brother Didi Pei Chien-chung, both followed their father to become architects, with the two brothers having set up Pei Partnership Architects 25 years ago.

Sandi Pei has visited Hong Kong many times during the past year to work on the design for the refurbishment of the old Bank of China building in Queen’s Road, which will turn part of the historical building into a private banking regional headquarters, set to open in June this year.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Sandi Pei talked about his father, his vision of what makes a good architect, and the feng shui behind the design of the Bank of China Tower.

When you design a building for a bank, will it be different from other types of buildings?

Banking is a personal business so it is important to have a lot of space for the customers to meet with the bankers in the building. The Bank of China Tower on Garden Road is a very big building with two-thirds of the area leased out for office space. In a sense, it is the same as building other office buildings.

When I worked with my father to design the Bank of China Tower, Bank of China (Hong Kong) gave us a lot of freedom. They didn’t impose any special requirement but only wanted us to maximise the usable area and to create a landmark. We intended to build it tall because the site of the building is not in the [airport] flight path so there were no height limits. When it was completed in 1990 it was the tallest building in Hong Kong.

What is the feng shui behind the Bank of China building? Did you design it according to a feng shui master’s advice to ensure the profitability of the bank?

In terms of feng shui, we wanted to make sure it was designed in a way that it would have a comfortable relationship with its neighbouring buildings. We managed the site to make sure the building was parallel with other buildings. We wanted to make it as part of the downtown of Central that is easy for people to access, to enter and see. We chose the bamboo as the sharp point at the top of the building as it represents strength. It is connected to the traditional Chinese culture.

Did your father want you to follow in his footsteps to be an architect?

My father allowed all his four children to freely choose their career. I chose to follow in his footsteps as I consider I have some talent in the area. I graduated in 1976 and then I worked with my father for 17 years. Then I set up the firm Pei Partnership Architects with my second eldest brother who is also an architect. The company is 25 years old this year... time flies.

Working with my brother is a good partnership. We both have our own projects while we review and discuss each others’ work to exchange ideas. We both try everything we can do to extend the reputation our father has earned. I have a daughter who is now 19 years old. I will let her choose her career.

What do you think of your father’s work?

My father has a tremendous gift to understand the scene of the place. He could create a landmark building which is practical while at the same time inspiring.

What makes a good architect?

One needs to have a good understanding of culture, nature and engineering to be a good architect. A well-designed design building should be practical, endurable.

My father is going to be 100 years old this year and he found it interesting that he is the same age as the Bank of China Hong Kong, which he helped build the tower for. He is still well but I don’t think it would be possible for him to fly all the way to Hong Kong [from New York] as the distant is too far.

Do you have banking relationship with Bank of China (Hong Kong)?

When the new Bank of China Tower was established I did open a saving account with the bank. Maybe I should consider the private banking services now after I design the private bank regional headquarters for the bank.