Located in Central’s core business area, the 50-year-old Murray Building was where my and other civil servants’ offices used to be. As one of the eight projects under the “Conserving Central” initiative, this former government office block has been conserved and revitalised into a chic hotel “The Murray”. Recently, I returned to this familiar place for a visit and learnt more about how the architectural features of the building have been preserved after renovation.
Murray Building is located on 22 Cotton Tree Drive, adjacent to the “Government Hill” and the Peak Tram terminus on Garden Road. Built in 1969, it was the headquarters of a number of policy bureaux and departments. After four years of renovation works, the transformation of the building was completed last year and the new hotel started operation in January this year. The Executive Director of Wharf Estates Limited, Ms LENG Yen-thean, took us to visit the hotel’s rooftop terrace, guestrooms, restaurants and event spaces. I even tried to locate my old office when I was the then Director of Information Services. It has been turned into a guestroom now. The building has brought back vivid memories that I still cherish.
Striking a balance between conservation and development
Murray Building is the only commercial project under the “Conserving Central” initiative. It is challenging to strike a balance between conservation and hotel development. To pave the way for the conversion of Murray Building into a hotel, the Government rezoned the site, with certain development restrictions, to “Other Specified Uses” annotated “Building with Architectural Merits Preserved for Hotel Use” on the Central District Outline Zoning Plan in 2010. As part of the tender conditions, the developer was required to comply with conservation requirements with a view to preserving the architectural merits of Murray Building. These include preservation of the layout and exterior design of the building, design of additional structures, if any, to follow similar architectural language of the existing building, etc. After conversion, the 25-storey building, once the city’s tallest government building, has been turned into a hotel with 336 suites and guestrooms, with banquet, meeting, and event spaces.
Murray Building’s exterior looks like a big, white box. After revitalisation, it still retains its inherent building wisdom and aesthetics. The building itself is surrounded by main roads on all sides. One of the outstanding design features of the building is that its vehicular entrance is neatly knitted into the steep Cotton Tree Drive. This former vehicular ramp has been preserved - now visitors will see a sloping ceiling with brass gold furnishings if they look up while entering the hotel lobby.
The windows in the entire building show the meticulous design adopted at the time. The grid-like windows are positioned ingeniously to avoid intrusion of excessive direct sunlight, thus providing a cooling function. The design won the Certificate of Merit of the Energy Efficient Building Award. Ms LENG said Hong Kong was very fortunate to have this kind of architectural style. The developer specially enlarged the windows in the rooms to make them look like a picture frame, so as to have a greater open view.The flourishing hundred-year-old tree
Worth mentioning is the old tree of over one hundred years old located in the open area outside the hotel lobby, the Pink and White Shower tree (Cassia javanica variety indochinensis). It bears witness to Murray Building’s then completion and today’s facelift. This old tree, which in the past stood proudly on its own in the carpark, now goes through two levels, the hotel forecourt and the podium, making it easier to absorb sunlight than in the past. I know that the health of this tree was only so-so in the past, so the developer took special care during the works to make sure it would not be affected. Now, the tree has sprouted flourishing leaves and flowers, thus adding graceful bearing and new colour to the building. Ms LENG said the hotel has added some greening elements to try to create an oasis in Central.
The unique circular arch corridors
The architects for the hotel refurbishment also preserved the three-storey high circular arch corridors at the bottom of the building. This originally was where the vehicular access was located and now it has been converted to a semi-open space. With the corridors opened up, by looking out at the arches, you can see views of Hong Kong Park, St. John’s Cathedral, banks and commercial high rises, etc. Because the ceiling is exceptionally high, with plenty of space plus natural ventilation, these corridors are suitable for holding different kinds of creative exhibition activities. On the day of my visit, people were taking photos around the hotel. I also note that the hotel has good access on all sides, which helps attract visitors.
Apart from the Murray Building revitalisation project, I am pleased to see other projects under the “Conserving Central” initiative getting positive feedback. Among them is the Former Police Married Quarters on Hollywood Road, which after transformed into “PMQ”, has generated good visitor numbers every year. Meanwhile, the Central Police Station Compound revitalisation project will open in three phases starting in the middle of the year. The Centre for Heritage and Art will be operated under the name “Tai Kwun”. I hope that there will be more revitalisation projects for historic buildings in Hong Kong where people can get to know and enjoy. They will provide more places to go for leisure, improve the quality of life for everybody, as well as Hong Kong’s unique charisma as an international city.
22 April, 2018Back