In less than 200 years, Hong Kong has been transformed continuously from a fishing village into Victoria City, from a warehouse into a manufacturing centre, into a services hub, and into today’s modern metropolis and global financial centre. With such a fast rate of change, Hong Kong is facing a real challenge: sustaining its growth that has made Hong Kong what it is today and is its essence, while conserving the heritage that makes this megapolis so unique.
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In 2009 the government decided to solve this difficult equation by conserving some specific buildings in the Central district thanks to 8 innovative projects. The Murray Building is one of the most emblematic ones.
This 1969 iconic white tower with its innovative skewed windows designed by British architect Ron Phillips has not changed much from the outside with its clean lines above the recognisable 11-metre tall arches. The stand-alone Murray Building is still located in a prime location by two of the main landmarks of Hong Kong, the HSBC Tower by Foster and the Bank of China Tower by Pei, and by the green oasis provided by the Hong Kong Park and the Botanical Garden – a real luxury in the overbuilt city. The over-100-year-old Cassia Javanica var tree – one of only two registered Old and Valuable Trees in Hong Kong – is still standing by the building. Even before entering this sanctuary, it breathes serenity and calm in the heart of the hectic city.
After over 40 years of usage as a government office, everything else was changed to turn it into a luxury hotel using a ton of ingenuity, the expertise of the British architectural firm Foster + Partners and spending about US$1-billion to repurpose this landmark of Hong Kong Island. Entering the building today must feel quite different. The delicate and elegant signature scent of the Niccolo Hotel luxury brand emanates from the silent HVAC system. The uniforms of the traffic bureau officers have been replaced by the classy wardrobe of the Niccolo Hotel city insiders always available to accommodate their guests. Inside the white and black marble floors paired with a signature ‘bronze’ polished stainless-steel finish conveys elegance while respecting the fengshui philosophy. The offices were turned into 336 oversized rooms and suites breathing comfort, style and luxury in a contemporary urban chic design. If the inclination of the windows was maintained as it limits the direct sunlight and solar radiation making the building more energy-efficient and award-winning (and very, very innovative back in 1969!), all the windows were enlarged to enhance guests’ experience and provide amazing views on the city.
The previous engine room was moved all the way down to allow for the 260-degree rooftop restaurant and bar Popinjays to move in on the 26th floor offering stunning and unobstructed views of the central business district, the green of Hong Kong Park, and the Victoria Peak, as well as original cocktails. The ground level hosts a stylish 17-metre long swimming pool while the former observation tower has been converted into a relaxing pool. Other offices of the traffic bureau were turned into a spa with exclusive pampering (skin products by Dr. Barbara Sturm – an exclusivity at The Murray – and the Grown Alchemist are used for spa treatments), or a gymnasium of the best quality overlooking the park. Several restaurants spaces were arranged including the Michelin star Cantonese restaurant Guo Fu Lou, the Tai Pan where the best quality ingredients from all over the planet are presented on a daily basis for breakfast, and the Murray Lane bar on the ground-level to only name a few.
Repurposing an office building into a luxury hotel takes more than architecture and engineering. As the flagship of the Niccolo hotels, its inspiration is taken from the passions of Niccolo, Marco Polo’s father, explorer himself, trader with a lovely taste for design and a sweet spot for fashion. The carefully selected art pieces that can be found on every floor as well as the stylish interior decoration reflect this spirit. This great attention to details is not only found in the decor. The carefully trained staff of 500 is always ready to meet any possible need a guest may have, and with a smile making hospitality paramount to the project.
Within a few years, The Murray has become unavoidable on the luxury hotel and historical scenes of the former colony. The repurposed building has turned into a real success being one of Time Magazine’s 100 Great Places in 2018 and the top hotel in Hong Kong in Condé Nast Traveller’s 2019 “Readers’ Choice Awards”, making it a must-stay, or at least a must-visit while in Hong Kong.
Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau (text & photographs)
- “The Historic Murray Tour” is a 1-hour guided walk to acquaint locals and travellers with the hotel’s rich history, architecture, and art taking place every day at 10am and 4pm upon advance reservation email@example.com.
- The Niccolo Hotels are the luxury brand of the Wharf Group hotel chain. The Marco Polo Hotels are the 4-star declination with prime locations on Kowloon (housing a not-to-miss restaurant, Cucina, with out of this world Italian gastronomy and the best views on Hong Kong Island).
- Check out this interactive map for the specific details to help you plan your trip and more articles and photos (zoom out) about the area! Here is a short tutorial to download it.
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