On the winding road leading from Happy Valley to Victoria Peak is the remarkable location of 53 Stubbs Road where Swire Properties, a leading Hong Kong developer, owner and operator of mixed-use properties, decided to build a luxury residential block on a plot of land owned by Swire Pacific. Always eager to take on a challenge involving new and innovative solutions, the developers recognized the enormous potential of this remarkably secluded unspoiled site with panoramic views to host an extraordinary piece of domestic architecture.
The lobed design of the 10 floor plans of the main building with their completely glazed curved walls opening out onto balconies recalls the corolla of the Bauhinia orchid, the symbol of Hong Kong. Stretching from south-east to south-west, glazed surfaces are interspersed by straight opaque segments designed to afford greater privacy but also to shield the apartments from direct radiation throughout the day.
Slightly rotated on the floors above and below, each level is a spatial unit unto itself, orientated at a slightly different angle to the others. The result is a helical elevation that is further emphasized by inclined structural columns placed outside the building. This creates an exoskeleton that in turn affords large, airy, column-less interiors and completely unfettered spatial distribution. The glass-clad weight-bearing columns climbing up the façade like huge bamboo trunks give the whole building a decidedly organic look. The building’s anchorage to a stepped stone-clad mass known as The Quarry makes the high-rise resemble a plant growing in symbiosis with its natural environment.
The hills, the bay…this is a building emerging from the landscape and nature.
Frank Gehry, Gehry Partners LLP
Design & engineering, manufacturing and installation of around 7,000 sqm (75,300 sq ft) of custom-made façade area and architectural elements.
The complexity of a singularly unique envelope
The façade details required the customized production of all the glazed parts and their allied metal components, a feat that required almost a full year’s work. Since each floor of the luxury residential development is unique, the curtain walls on each of the 12 slightly off set levels vary slightly, requiring one-off design and production. Although the technical solutions were not necessarily different, this was certainly not the case for the size requirements of the panels, glass sliding doors, balustrades, handrails and windows. There was no repeating standard dimension over the entire building.
The intention of the architect was to make the environment part of the living experience, so large operable, fully glazed sliding doors were designed for the living rooms facing the Victoria Harbour to be moved aside like curtains. The huge sliding glazed doors opening out onto balconies overlooking the bay are some 1.5 m x 1.5 m x 3 m (5 x 5 x 9.8 ft). Never before manufactured, every single component was completely produced in-house to the highest standards of water and wind resistance. Components included: the sliding doors, hardware for the lift-site operation, the aluminum frames, gutter, roller blinds. A further challenge presented by these extensive stretches of glazing was their curvature. This required ad hoc study to define the extremely fine tolerances required for correct assembly of the curved IGU glass in their frames. A total of about 2,500 sqm (26,900 sq ft) of custom-made sliding doors (mainly curved) and straight façades were designed, produced and installed. The transparency of the glass walls is balanced by the introduction of solid screens on limited locations of the façade to ensure privacy for residents.
Another outstanding feature of the Opus project is the external steel structural columns. They form a highly characteristic visible exoskeleton of the glazed part of the building. Inclined to follow the twisting façade, the columns are strikingly clad in panels of curved transparent glass, designed by the architect to give the building its iconic appearance reminiscent of the bamboo depicted in Chinese paintings. As well as allowing maximum flexibility to the interior residential layout, these structural ‘reeds’ accentuate the sinuous tapering of the building as it rises - fragile bamboo canes enveloped in protective glass, contrasting to great effect with an imposing steel structure, yet able to withstand the forces unleashed by tropical storms. The curved glass panels cladding the outer metal structural columns demanded curvatures that put manufacturing capability to the test. 1.8 x 4.2 m (6 x 13.7 ft) laminated glass panels with a curvature of some 435 mm (17 1/8”) were produced to cover a total surface area of 2,140 m2 (23,000 sq ft). Designed and manufactured especially for Opus, the brackets connecting the panels to each other, and the panels to the columns, did not require perforation of any glazed surface.
As well as the huge stretches of curved operable glazing, the building façade also has a series of box windows placed in the masonry sections of the building facing south-east and north-east. Other features of this side of the building include skylights and straight and curved balustrades. A signature feature of Gehry Partners’ architecture, these box windows are vertically aligned on the stone-clad sections of the façade, forming an acute angle with the nearby wall. These kitchen, back bedroom and service area windows comprise 8-2-8 mm (5/16-1/16-5/16”) stratified safety glass in aluminum frames, and cover a total surface area of 243 sqm (2,600 sq ft). Although more classical in style, they still ensure splendid framed views of the outside, giving the sensation of being projected into the natural environment all around.
Another characteristic feature is the 566 sqm (6,100 sq ft) of shingle wall cladding. Inclined and slightly offset between the floors, they cover the wall surfaces connecting the masonry sections to the parts containing the glazed façades. Further architectural features include skylights, a roof canopy, the podium areas, and some 800 sqm (8,600 sq ft), and 210 sqm (2,260 sq ft) straight and curved balustrades.
A sculptural 12-story luxury residential building
Frank Gehry’s first residential building in Asia
A new distinctive landmark for the city
A rare and prestigious site with a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of HK
Flower-shaped footprint to give the most panoramic view
Floor-to-ceiling curved glass façade with continuous balcony
Structural steel columns with glass cladding
Complex tridimensional structures with very limited repetition
DEVELOPER: Swire Properties Limited
DESIGN ARCHITECT: Gehry Partners, LLP
EXECUTIVE ARCHITECT: Ronald Lu and Partners (RLP)
CONTRACTOR: Gammon Construction Limited
FAÇADE CONSULTANT: Emmer Pfenninger Partner AG, Solstice Consulting Ltd
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