The firm Foster + Partners uses a double code of flair and understatement for the spaces of The Murray Hotel, created in a historic modernist building in the heart of Hong Kong. The unusual layout of the rooms takes it cue from the windows

In the heart of Hong Kong Island, where the street network accompanies the twisting curves of the hills rising towards Victoria Peak, Foster + Partners reinvents the skeleton and skin of an urban landmark in the spaces of The Murray, the latest luxury hotel opened by the Niccolo Hotels group.

The refined architecture from 1969, done by Ron Phillips for the offices of the Department of Public Works, is the protagonist of the place: Foster + Partners has conserved and underscored its distinctive characteristics, getting Phillips himself involved in several phases of the project.

The structure of the building – whose proportions, through daring, remain moderate with respect to the upward thrust of the surrounding neighbors – nonchalantly absorbs the new functional program, which separates communal and private areas, organized between the base and the vertical volume.

Norman Foster founded the practice in 1967, and over five decades he has established a sustainable approach to the design of the built environment. He believes that the quality of our surroundings affects the quality of our lives, and is driven by his passion for innovation and excellence. He is also president of the Norman Foster Foundation, based in Madrid. In 1999, he was honoured by The Queen with a life peerage, taking the title Lord Foster of Thames Bank. Norman is a keen pilot, enjoys cross-country skiing and cycling.

The base features a portico composed of a series of monumental arches that give force and lightness to the facade. This element plays a fundamental role in the relationship between the building and its ground seam, in a metropolis of such density and vertical extension that connections are shifted and spaces of relation are often placed several meters above ground level.

The vehicle access ramp, now closed to traffic, a footbridge and a covered walkway are grafted onto the arches at different levels, connecting the central body to the variable street level. A majestic cotton tree that was preserved during the renovation work now sets the tone of the entrance to The Murray.

Further up, the elevation is generated by the obsessive repetition of the same window, recessed and rotated by 45 degrees with respect to the facade plane. This system developed by Phillips to protect the interiors from direct sunlight led to the Energy Efficient Building Award in 1994; in the composition, it generates an elevation of great sculptural and expressive force.

The dualism of the base and body is reiterated in the design and finishing of the interiors, differently shaped around a new idea of luxury: it is about “generosity of space, and an inherent understanding of how the hotel responds to the needs of the guest,” says Luke Fox, Senior Executive Partner of Foster + Partners.

The shared spaces of the lobby, the Murray Lane bar on the ground floor and the restaurant are arranged orthogonally with respect to the rectangular structural core, in tune with the pace of the arches that define the base.

The interiors are fluid, luminous and spacious, where the sense of opulence comes from the fine quality of the materials: Calacatta marble, black for the floor and white for the walls, accompanies the steps of visitors in a continuous play of reflections tempered only by the sections, posts and other parts in gold-finish stainless steel.

On the upper levels Phillips’ intuition becomes the key with which Foster + Partners redesigns a dynamic but well-balanced plan: the rotation of the windows provides the compositional principle of each level, revealing its functional efficacy for the planimetric organization of the 336 rooms.

Shifted by 45 degrees with respect to the facade plane, various types of rooms and suites gain different spaces and unexpected depths from this arrangement. The openings, which to the north face the headquarters of HSBC designed by Foster in 1986, frame composite sequences of urban congestion, exciting vistas that form a contrast with the sober refinement of the furnishings and finishes.

The palette of colors in the bedrooms, living and dining areas and office corners features neutral, powdery tones, with textile accents of acid hues. The diffused light, the materials – Italian herringbone parquet, wallcoverings, leather paneling, large carpets – are all orchestrated in warm matte shadings. The bathrooms get their own distinct area in the room layout, where restraint again gives way to the glowing allure of the marble and the faucets.

The dualism of the base and body is reiterated in the design and finishing of the interiors, differently shaped around a new idea of luxury: it is about generosity of space, and an inherent understanding of how the hotel responds to the needs of the guest. (Luke Fox, Senior Executive Partner at Foster + Partners)"

The facilities also include a hall for receptions, a space for events and a fitness area with spa. On the top floor, around the new volume of the Popinjays restaurant, an outdoor terrace compensates for the compact size of the interiors: this design gesture creates a new space of relation high above the ground, as frequently happens in the extreme density of Hong Kong.

Project by Foster + Partners - Photos Michael Weber, Nigel Young/courtesy Foster + Partners