An old 1960s government high-rise on Cotton Tree Drive has metamorphosed into a five-star hotel, a welcome addition to Hong Kong’s luxury hotel scene. Sitting snug between the Peak Tram terminal, Hong Kong Park and the Cheung Kong Centre, The Murray is wonderfully located in the heart of the city. The views over the park, St John’s Cathedral and across Victoria Harbour to ICC from its 336 guest rooms are some of the best in town.
The distinctive white building with its huge ground-floor archways was originally designed by Architectural Services Department worker Ron Philips in 1969 for the then-colonial government. The brief was to come up with an office block to accommodate the Public Works Department. But Philips designed a 27-storey building so innovative that modern-day buildings struggle to compete with its environmental features.
To reduce air conditioning costs, Philips designed the building with its windows sheltered by concrete ‘fins’ positioned at 90 degrees to the panes to avoid direct sunlight hitting the glass. This passive design was considered innovative enough to win the Certificate of Merit of the Energy Efficient Building Award in 1994. In 1969, it was well ahead of its time and as Foster + Partners, the lead architect on today’s redesign, has pointed out, the modern day glass high-rises that sit shimmering in the Asian sun today don’t seem to have been quite as design-savvy.
Philips in now in his 90s and living in Britain, but he was invited by Foster + Partners to consult on the Murray’s conversion and last December he flew out to Hong Kong for the official opening of the hotel. The building and site had been bought from the government in 2011 by developer Wharf Holdings for $4.4 billion, with a further $3.4 billion spent on the redevelopment. Although the sale of government land to a private party was controversial at the time, The Murray is part of the Conserving Central project which aims to preserve what’s left of Central’s historic heart. This has ensured a sympathetic re-design and subsequent new lease of life. Heritage constraints meant the height of the building could not be altered and original features such as the sweeping archways and clever vehicle ramps that feed off from busy Cotton Tree Drive had to be left in place.
The re-design beautifully ‘opens up’ the building with floor-to-ceiling glass at the lower levels and multiple entry points. The concrete car park has been replaced with gardens and outdoor spaces – the dining room spills out onto a terraced area shaded by a 139-year-old listed Rainbow Shower Tree, which is the centrepiece of the gardens.
The distinctive arches were installed by Philips to solve the problem of steep inclines limiting access to the car park. But as it transpired, the archways not only made the base of the building more accessible for vehicles back in the ’60s, today they provide fantastic shade and rain protection, enabling a superb outdoor venue that is protected from the elements. The hotel is next month welcoming a car exhibition to the space which will be known as The Arches.
The Murray boasts a modern, sleek cocktail bar which will no doubt become a welcome watering hole with workers from the neighbouring central business district – the cocktail menu is named The Tape and features tipples including ‘Opening Bell’ and ‘Nifty Fifty’ as a nod to its locale.
The afternoon tea was delicious – the perfectly warmed and fresh scones were a highlight – and located close to top tourist sites St John’s Cathedral and the Peak tram station. As a stop-off for foot-sore site-seers it couldn’t be better placed. In June a rooftop bar and restaurant is due to be opened.
The guest rooms are, as you would expect of such a high spec re-design, top notch, with free-standing bathtubs, spacious living areas and superb views over the historic heart of Central. Indeed I’m looking forward to many happy moments in this fabulous new addition to Central’s hotel scene.
*The hotel has only received a soft opening so far – most of the hotel restaurants are open but only when reserved in advance. They will be fully available next month, niccolohotels.com