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Reinventing the Skyscraper – HSBC Headquarters in Hong Kong (1986)

These days, a British architect who had never worked abroad or built anything taller than four storeys would hardly be invited to participate in a design competition for a banking skyscraper in China. However, this was still possible in 1979, which is how over the following years, Norman Foster came to enhance the British Crown colony of Hong Kong with a skyscraper of an entirely new kind. Unlike nearly all skyscrapers that had hitherto been realized, the headquarters of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank (now a subsidiary of HSBC Holdings) had no central load-bearing core of reinforced concrete or even a ground floor. A public square is located beneath the building; escalators ascend into the entrance level. The stacked suspension trusses, some of which are on the exterior of the building, resemble hanging bridges and fit perfectly with the overall bridge typology. The structure is borne by eight enormous masts, each comprising four support columns of steel. Each individual column has a diameter of 140 cm at its foot and a thickness of 10 cm. 

Suspended Trusses
In the longitudinal direction of the building, suspended trusses connect these masts, from each of which up to eight office storeys have been hung. In order to ensure sufficient sunlight for the surrounding streets and squares, Foster and his team divided the office high-rise into three sections of 35, 47 and 28 storeys respectively. On the longer sides of the building, the curtain-wall façades are slightly recessed at the height of the suspended trusses. Normally, these areas would house the technical levels, but Foster and his team used the two-storey zones for specific functions such as conference rooms and the executive floor of the bank; they also complemented them with jutting outdoor terraces. 

Materials from Airplane Design
Using steel rather than reinforced concrete for the supporting framework saved weight in the new building. All the same, the concept was quite unusual to building companies in the British Crown colony. Ultimately, most of the building steel was imported from the British motherland. Inside as well, the architects lay value on saving weight: a double-floor system whose panels consist of aluminum honeycomb plates was laid in the office spaces to ensure flexibility for cable conduits. Norman Foster, a keen private pilot, borrowed this idea from airplane design.

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