THE BRITS WHO BUILT THE MODERN WORLD  

Peak Tower

Built

1997

Location

Hong Kong, China

The firm of Postmodernist architect Terry Farrell has had a major impact on Hong Kong before and after the territory’s handover from Britain to China on 1 July 1997. Buildings that were completed before that historic event were important signs of confidence at a time when the future in a post-colonial Hong Kong seemed uncertain.

The Peak Tower opened in May 1997 and was the first Terry Farrell & Partners project in China. The seven-storey tower, visited by millions annually, is located in a prime position near the summit of Victoria Peak, the tallest mountain in Hong Kong, and has views of the skyline and harbour. 

…instantly recognisable and unlike any other

The building has distinctive elements with a variety of functions for visitors. Within its reinforced concrete mass is the upper terminus of the historic Peak Tram, a funicular railway that has taken visitors and local residents up and down the slopes of Victoria Peak since 1888. As well as the station, the podium houses retail space and a hotel. Rising above the podium on four supports containing escalators and lifts is the distinctive bowl. Up here there are public viewing platforms and a restaurant. The Peak Tower, like Farrell’s more recent Beijing South Station, references traditional Chinese architecture, the Temple of Heaven in the case of the latter.  The bowl echoes the curving eaves typical of traditional Chinese architecture, while the building's solid-looking base is steeply sloped and is a reminder of the old fortified walls of Chinese and Tibetan cities and buildings.

…the peaceful environs of the Peak Tower provide a vantage point from which to understand and think about Hong Kong.

Extreme weather conditions, limited site access due to the narrow mountain roads, the unusual shape and weight of Farrell’s design and the need to demolish the previous Peak Tower all presented challenges. Unexploded bombs dating from World War Two were also discovered on the site.  

This building works with the local geography and contrasts with the manmade urban context below. The tower's height is in line with the hills and the width was determined by the size of the valley. The curve of the bowl is a visual counterbalance to angular skyscrapers crowded along the waterfront and gives the building a distinct form by day and night from the harbour. To keep up with this fast-moving city, less than ten years after opening the tower was refurbished to the designs of Ronald Lu & Partners.

Before Terry Farrell & Partners

Victoria Peak has been a major landmark in Hong Kong since the island was annexed by the British in 1842 and became an exclusive residential area. To service these residents and the Peak Hotel and to give visitors easier access to the views from the peak, the Peak Tram was opened in 1888. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1938 and many years later its site was occupied by the two Peak Tower, of which two versions were built. 
In 1972 a tower with facilities to cater for visitors was opened, designed by Palmer & Turner, a local firm originally founded by British architects in the 19th century. Nearly two decades later it was decided that the complex needed to be expanded to cope with increasing visitor numbers. In 1991 Farrell was invited to enter and won a limited competition. Farrell’s design called for the total replacement of the first Peak Tower and beginning in 1993 the site was redeveloped, including the difficult task of demolishing the old building on this hilltop site.

QUOTES ABOUT peak tower

‘The Peak was probably the last in a series of our buildings with recognisable stylistic characteristics of Postmodernism.’
Terry Farrell in Architecture Today, October 2011, p.22

‘Once again, Farrell & Partners has created a building which is instantly recognisable and unlike any other.’
Building Journal Hong Kong China, February 1997, p.31

‘…the peaceful environs of the Peak Tower provide a vantage point from which to understand and think about Hong Kong.’
Ten years, Ten Cities, by Terry Farrell & Partners, 2002, p.82

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