The first HSBC (then known as the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Company Limited) building was Wardley House, used as HSBC office between 1865 to 1882 on the present site. In 1864 the lease cost HKD $500 a month. After raising a capital of HKD $5 million, the bank opened its door in 1865. It was demolished in 1886 and rebuilt in the same year.
The main feature of the second building design was the division of the structure into two almost separate buildings. The building on Queen's Road Central was in Victorian style with a verandah, colonnades and an octagonal dome, whereas the arcade which harmonized with the adjacent buildings was constructed on Des Voeux Road.
In 1935, the second building was demolished and a third design was erected. The third design used part of the land of the old City Hall, and was built with the Chicago school style. This third building had, for a period of time after completion, been the tallest building between San Francisco and Cairo. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, the building served as the government headquarters. Locally, it was the first building in Hong Kong to be fully air-conditioned.
By the 1970s the bank had outgrown its headquarters; departments were scattered into offices all over Central Hong Kong, and it was obvious that such a "solution" to the space limitations could not continue indefinitely. In 1978 the bank decided to tear down its headquarters and rebuild it again. The building was finished on November 18, 1985. At the time, it was the most expensive building in the world (c.a.HK$5.2 billion, roughly US$668 million).
The first major addition to the building, designed by Hong Kong's One Space Ltd, was completed on November 23, 2006, in the form of a ground floor lobby that improves security access to the upper floors and creates a prestigious reception area. Its design and construction included the installation of the "Asian Story Wall", a multimedia installation comprised of twin banks of 30 seamless plasma screens (the largest installation of its kind in Hong Kong) displaying archived bank heritage and artworks.
The new Lobby and its 2-part Asian Story Wall were designed by Greg Pearce, of One Space Limited. Pearce was also the Principal Architect of the Hong Kong Airport Express (MTR) station. Conceived as a minimalist glass envelope, the new lobby is designed to be deferential to Foster's structure and appears almost to be part of the original.
The building is also one of the few to not have elevators as the primary carrier of building traffic. Instead, elevators only stop every few floors, and floors are interconnected by escalators.
The main characteristic of HSBC Hong Kong headquarters is its absence of internal supporting structure.
Another notable feature is that natural sunlight is the major source of lighting inside the building. There is a bank of giant mirrors at the top of the atrium, which can reflect natural sunlight into the atrium and hence down into the plaza. Through the use of natural sunlight, this design helps to conserve energy. Additionally, sun shades are provided on the external facades to block direct sunlight going into the building and to reduce heat gain. Instead of fresh water, sea water is used as coolant for the air-conditioning system.
All flooring is made from lightweight movable panels, under which lies a comprehensive network of power, telecommunication, and air-conditioning systems. This design allows equipment such as computer terminals to be installed quickly and easily.
Because of the urgency to finish the project, the construction of the building relied heavily on off-site prefabrication; components were manufactured all over the world. For example, the structural steel came from Britain; the glass, aluminium cladding and flooring came from the United States while the service modules came from Japan.
The inverted ‘va’ segments of the suspension trusses spanning the construction at double-height levels is the most obvious characteristic of the building. It consists of eight groups of four aluminium-clad steel columns which ascend from the foundations up through the core structure, and five levels of triangular suspension trusses which are locked into these masts.
Even though the Hong Kong Government is proposing extending the existing coastline further out into the harbour in its latest land reclamation project, it will still set aside space so that no new developments will block the HSBC Building's view of the harbour. (It has been said that the HSBC is guaranteed its view of the harbour by the government. )
Two bronze lion statues are located in front of the building. The statues were cast in Shanghai in 1935 and brought to Hong Kong. Like the other statues of Statue Square, the two lion statues were displaced to Japan for melting by the then Japanese administration during World War II. They were rediscovered at the end of the war there, and brought back to their original location. Bullet impacts from the Battle of Hong Kong in WWII are still visible on the statues. One of the lion statues had a small explosive embedded in it; it remained undiscovered until the early 1990s, when it was removed by police's explosive unit.
From a "Feng Shui" point of view, the two bronze lion statues in front of the HSBC headquarter are believed to contribute to the steady revenue of the bank. Although even in Asia, not every architect believes in Feng Shui, most of their customers do.
The original pair of lions are kept at a museum in Shanghai. The lions at HSBC Hong Kong Headquarters are the second pair. A third pair is kept in HSBC Group Headquarters in London, and a fourth pair is located at its former branch in Shanghai.
The left lion (the one with the mouth open) is named Stephen, after the general manager of Hong Kong branch A. G. Stephen; and the right is named Stitt, after the general manager of Shanghai branch at the time.
Rumour has it that Stitt used to have its mouth open as well, but this would allow it to "breathe in" the eastern wind, giving it life at night and became a menace to the public. Thus Stitt was recast with its mouth closed.
See also: Imperial guardian lions
In 2003, the Hong Kong Tourism Board developed a harbour lighting plan called "A Symphony of Lights" , a large-scale multimedia show featuring lighting, laser, music, and occasionally special pyrotechnics effects during festivals, in order to promote tourism in Hong Kong. The show is based on the illumination of key buildings on the Hong Kong Island side, and is best viewed from the Kowloon side across the Victoria Harbour. The HSBC Hong Kong headquarters building is one of the participating buildings in the show. The building has been installed with 716 intelligent lighting units, including 450 Martin Professional Cyclo 03 colour changing fluorescent fixtures in the glass stairwells, Martin Professional Exterior 600's and Exterior 200 fixtures on five levels, 8 search lights, and over one kilometre of LED lighting around the top. Completed by mid-December 2003, the cost of installation is estimated to be HK$5.5 million.
Intelligent lighting is distributed across six sections of the building:
HSBC has always aimed to adopt a new lighting scheme because Foster did not pay much attention to the illumination of the building at nighttime.