Architect Paul Rudolph aimed to integrate buildings with their surrounding landscapes by incorporating interconnected sky bridges, terraced gardens, and designs that prioritised pedestrian movement. Archivist Billy Cheng examines this aspect of Rudolph’s work with examples from the M+ Collection Archives.
Gazing towards Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Park, your attention will likely be drawn to a pair of glass-curtained skyscrapers seemingly adorned with the gentle embrace of koala-like forms. The Lippo Centre, formerly the Bond Centre, is a rare example of twin-tower architecture in Hong Kong, located at the boundary between Central and Admiralty. The American architect Paul Rudolph and the Hong Kong architectural firm Wong & Ouyang designed the building, the only project Rudolph completed in Hong Kong.
Born in 1918, Paul Rudolph served as Chair of the Yale University Architecture Department. By the time he collaborated with the Hong Kong architectural firm Wong & Ouyang to design the Bond Centre in the early 1980s, he was already one of the most famous architects in the United States. Norman Foster, who designed the HSBC Headquarters and Hong Kong International Airport, was one of Rudolph’s students at Yale. He once said, ‘Paul Rudolph was the main reason that I chose to go to Yale University for the Masters course in architecture. As a student I was familiar with his early works through illustrations in the magazines of the time. His drawings held a particular fascination for me—unlike those of other architects they were not only graphically seductive but also rigorous in the manner in which they revealed the anatomy and spatial qualities of his buildings.’ The Art and Architecture Building that Rudolph designed for Yale became known as a representative work of American brutalism. When brutalist architecture later fell out of fashion, Rudolph’s designs took a modernist turn, and he shifted his focus to Southeast Asian sites, including Singapore and Hong Kong.
The M+ Collection Archives include a collection of Rudolph’s drawings for architectural projects in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. As these demonstrate, his later designs emphasised connection with their environments. This characteristic is particularly evident in Hong Kong’s undulating terrain and dense urban setting. The collection includes three projects in Hong Kong: the Bond Centre, the Harbour Road project, and the Plantation Road project, all of which took advantage of the sites’ distinctive terrains.
Construction of the Bond Centre, which began in 1984 and ended in 1988, took place during rapid development in Hong Kong’s financial sector. By that time, the commercial land in Central was mainly developed, and an extension of the original commercial core area was being built in Admiralty, where the pair of skyscrapers is located. There was already a growing system of elevated pedestrian walkways in Central, pioneered by the Connaught Centre (today known as Jardine House), and the projects in Admiralty continued and expanded this network. In his design for the Bond Centre, Rudolph extended pedestrian sky bridges from the four corners of the buildings’ elevated terrace, connecting the twin towers to the neighbouring buildings and neatly incorporating the buildings into the existing network of elevated walkways. The Bond Centre’s lobby is also on the same level as the elevated walkways. There was originally a plan to build another walkway between the two towers of the Bond Centre, but the developer ultimately cancelled it. For Rudolph, these sky bridges were not only functional and efficient but also a means of enhancing the three-dimensional, layered feel of the city. A brochure produced for the Bond Centre by Graphic Communications Limited (renamed as Steiner & Co.) suggested that pedestrians would be drawn from the landscaped gardens, cascading pools, and curved stairways to the lobby.
Rudolph’s method of raising the structures up on columns to leave more space at the ground level is evident in other Southeast Asian projects he designed, including the Wisma Dharmala Sakti Headquarters in Jakarta, Indonesia, completed in 1990, and The Concourse in Singapore, completed in 1994. Through these projects, Rudolph explored ideas for how buildings can interact with streets, other buildings, and the surrounding urban environment, as well as the flow of pedestrians among them.
The Chinese version of this article was originally published on 16 August 2023 in Ming Pao. It is presented here in edited and translated form. Authored by Billy Cheng, it has been translated by Daniel Nieh and edited by Kate Reilly. All images: M+, Hong Kong. Gift of Wong & Ouyang (HK) Ltd., 2017. © Wong & Ouyang (HK) Ltd., Estate of Paul Rudolph / Paul Rudolph Heritage Foundation, unless otherwise noted.
Susan Grey, ed., Architects on Architects (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2001), 27.