Published in the South China Morning Post, 1 October 2006
Until the 1970s, it was virtually impossible to build high-rise blocks on the hills of Hong Kong that could withstand the force of typhoons. Then, a revolutionary building with a remarkably rigid structure sprang into being on Tregunter Path, Mid-Levels, stunning Hong Kong architects. Century Tower 1, a 31-storey residential complex, became famous for its semi-cylindrical shape, a design conceived to deflect the impact of strong winds.
The sophisticated design soon became standard study material for many architecture students of the 70s, including Stephen Ku and Nora Leung, who were left spellbound after a tour of the tower. Not long after, the pair began working as architects, got married and built a family in a townhouse in Chung Hum Kok. But Century Tower 1 stuck in their minds.
Recently when the couple decided to move closer to the city centre, their favourite building came to mind. “It’s an icon, an architectural statement. We love it,” says Ku, who is one-third of Chau, Ku & Leung Architects & Engineers. His wife is the Leung. Without any hesitation, they decided to build their urban refuge in the tower.
Like all other flats at the tower, the couple’s 2,565 sq ft home is fan shaped, with the whole of the outer curve forming a series of windows, affording a panoramic view of the harbour. Because of the layout, the flat is delightfully bright. But design-wise, it proved a challenge.
The first thorny issue had to do with the pair’s passion for perfection. Each floor of the building is made up of a series of wedge-shaped concrete blocks, the grid lines of which meet at the centre of the semi-cylinder in the vicinity of the lift shaft. To pay tribute to what they saw as a fascinating design, the couple decided to lay the floor tiles following the original radial pattern.
Based on the structural plan of the building, the couple traced the invisible centre point and grid lines. Then they outlined a blueprint of floor tiles that precisely followed the radial grid lines. The next step was to import granite tiles from Italy and have them cut to match the pattern.
The perfectionism did not stop here. The couple positioned a console in the living room in such a way that the midpoint of the furniture pointed to the invisible centre point of the semi cylinder. Such tenacious attention to detail, according to Ku, was entirely self-serving. “You can’t tell the floor-tile layout is based on the structure of the building. Other people may not care, but we believe we should respect the original design concept,” he says. “I think the architect who designed the tower would do the same.”
Having completed the most time-consuming task, Ku and Leung faced the challenge of installing wardrobes in the master bedroom and that of their daughter, Kolleen. “The rooms are fan shaped. We didn’t want to put a wardrobe near the window or it would block part of the light,” Leung says. The solution was to build a small square-shaped room for Kolleen’s clothes near the entrance so that no natural light would be obstructed. For the bigger master room, a similar square-shaped corner was built next to the en suite bathroom, at the end of the bedroom. A dehumidifier was then installed to deal with moisture from the bathroom.
The structure of the flat might have posed design challenges, but Ku and Leung are content. Especially pleasing is the arc-shaped corridor, in which the couple have hung pieces from their art collection for a personal touch. “I think the corridor is the most interesting feature of the flat. As you walk along it, different paintings come into sight. It’s like a story unfolding along the arc,” Ku says.
Another advantage of the corridor is that it gives their 12-year-old daughter private space. The master bedroom is on the left of the living room and Kolleen’s is on the far right, along the corridor. “She’s grown up and needs more privacy,” Leung says. “The design allows her to have her owns quarter and she can invite friends over.”