• Building an icon of visual culture into Hong Kong’s skyline

    3 February 2023

    Permasteelisa Hong Kong steps up to the challenge of creating a facade worthy of West Kowloon Cultural District’s museum for moving image works.


    Every night from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., the M+ lights up and delights viewers in Hong Kong Island with short but visually-stimulating and thought-provoking videos. Asia’s first global museum of visual culture, M+ has one of the world’s largest media facfades, overlooking Victoria Harbour. Its illumination sets it apart from the gleaming display of high rise neighbors, which take the form of brand names in bright, bold lights.

    The M+ Facade is a canvas for multiple commissioned works – like Nalini Malani’s In Search of Vanished Blood (2012/22) ; Ellen Pau’s The Shape of Light (2022) and studio Moniker’s Touch for Luck (2022). The moving images and animations offer moments of play, humour, poetry, intellectual reflection, and meditative contemplation to thousands of onlookers.

    But Hong Kong’s museum of visual culture is also as captivating up close and personal in the morning light.

    Terracotta beauty

    Green terracotta tiles similar to traditional Chinese roofing tiles clad the monolithic building. The glazed color, down to the texture and shapes of the cladding are reminiscent of the distinct Chinese architectural element found on the roofs of homes and major edifices.

    The hues of the tiles change, depending on the weather and color of the sky.

    The Hong Kong skyline boasts of several iconic buildings, but the M+ Façade is the first of its kind in Hong Kong. Terracotta’s perceived brittle nature makes it an uncommon material for high rise buildings, according to Charles Chong of Permasteelisa, yet M+ is proof that it is possible to use a complex material like ceramics. 

    “Since Hong Kong is highly susceptible to wind-driven debris during typhoons, the risk of damage to both terracotta and pre-cast inevitably increases, which had to be overcome with replacement strategies built into the design,” said Chong, who serves as Design Director, exteriors for Asia.

    The contractor has been known to install unique façades using innovative techniques around the world. It’s behind major buildings like Opus Hong Kong and the ongoing PNB 118 skyscraper in Malaysia.

    So when it was time to execute the design by architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, Permasteelisa was tapped to find solutions to turn the exterior design into reality.

    Building the dream

    The façade contract was awarded to Permasteelisa in 2016, with the building owner West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) poised to become one of the world’s largest cultural quarters, blending art, education and public space. Permasteelisa Design got the green light to supply and install a custom-made building envelope integrated with ceramic tile panels, precast concrete panels, glass panels and an LED media lighting system.

    In a span of five years, the distinctive cladding was completed. But because the use of terracotta in high-rise buildings was unusual, Chong said that the work around that was presented required convincing.

    “We were fortunate that the client has shown much understanding and supported us throughout the entire duration of the project, allowing Permasteelisa to deliver a unique landmark on the Victoria Harbour front,” Chong said.

    Permasteelisa also worked on the two buildings next to M+ – the WKCDA Tower and Conservation and Storage Facility.

    The terracotta tiles were carefully produced by Palagio Engineering, an Italy-based company that specializes in making terracotta cladding. The supplier made sure that the tiles were fired in the kiln in one go – sometimes for as long as two weeks – to make sure that the cladding would withstand external forces. This meant that the terracotta tiles for M+ Facade took a longer time to produce.

    Many major elements of the building exterior were sourced from different parts of the world. The tiles were made in Chianti, Italy, where there is an abundance of special clay that were used to make the terracotta cladding. The tiles were then assembled in Shenzhen, China before it was moved to Hong Kong for the fitting.

    “This is made all the more challenging given that the façade elements are particularly large, heavy, and not possible to ‘flat-pack’.  Hence, any delays will incur the need for huge temporary storage space,” Chong said.

    He added: “The façade units, which weighed over four tonnes even for a typical panel, needed customized transportation, lifting, and installation strategies and equipment. It would not be possible to install the façade using a traditional approach.”

    A visual spectacle

    The M+ Facade measures 110 metres wide and 65.8 metres high. Aside from the incorporation of the complex terracotta tiles, Permasteelisa installed precast concrete as well as glass panels. More than 5,600 LED tubes were installed between the panels to allow the nightly visual spectacle of the building.

    The first panel was delivered and installed in March 2018. The installation period lasted for 16 months, excluding two months of site closure. The last panel was installed in September 2019. Chong noted that this timeframe did not include the tedious and lengthy process of sourcing and shipping the terracotta tiles. The museum’s facade was completed in 2020, and in November 2021, the repository of modern and contemporary visual culture was opened with grand exhibitions. The forward-looking museum currently hosts outstanding shows within its walls, from Yayoi Kusama’s works, to Beeple’s kinetic video sculpture, to a retrospective of the Hong Kong visual culture. From the outside, its façade amazes spectators, up close and afar, both day and night.

    More Features
    Insight into the latest engineering and design marvel – Galleria in Gwanggyo
    From its rustic yet modern facade to the intricately engineered elevation, Galleria in Gwanggyo is a landmark building located in the new town of Gwanggyo, South Korea. The Galleria is notably Korea’s first and largest upscale department store franchise, founded in the 1970s, and has remained at the forefront of the luxury retail market since. The new store in Gwanggyo is located at the [...]
    Celebrating the Coexistence of Old and New
    Farrells recently completed Hangzhou Winland Center in China, located on the banks of the Grand Canal – a UNESCO World Heritage site. The 230,000m² mixed-use project consists of two iconic office towers connected to a retail base that links seven retail villas and six residential towers, weaved together by a network of elevated link bridges and sunken courtyard, walkable retail [...]
    BEAM Plus Certificate Presentation Ceremony 2022
    Co-organised by the Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC) and BEAM Society Limited (BSL), the BEAM Plus Certificate Presentation Ceremony 2022 was successfully held on 8 December 2022. This year, 112 projects have been certified with BEAM Plus. (按此瀏覽中文版) Since 2010, BEAM Plus has been Hong Kong’s leading initiative to offer independent assessment of building sustainability [...]
    Let the “Dragon City” awake
    JATO Design International Limited has challenged itself once again with a retail precinct project in Changzhou Economic Development Zone. This project focuses on designing a main street located in Changzhou, Jiangsu that aims to bring back Jiangnan’s traditional image as “City by the water” while infusing modern elements of lifestyle in the design. (按此瀏覽中文版) The total area [...]
    Asia’s Preeminent Manufacturer of Decorative Interior Glass
    Hong Kong-based manufacturer Orientop Limited supplies innovative and sustainable interior glass solutions to clients in Asia and across the world.  PRC Magazine met with Chief Executive Officer Vitus Yiu at The Rosewood Hong Kong to see one of the firm’s more recently completed projects. (按此瀏覽中文版) Before Vitus Yiu established Orientop Limited in 1995 he had an established [...]
    “A contradiction of ideas that serves as the determining factor in their interaction”
    The University of Technology Sydney campus, (UTS), is unique due to its CBD fringe location. This brings significant limitations on space and necessitates vertical rather than horizontal campus growth while offering enviable opportunity for public engagement.  (按此瀏覽中文版) Organic and Biomorphic This project is part of designer Francis-Jones Morehen Thorp’s ongoing interest [...]
    Düsseldorf Green Pyramid: Europe’s largest green façade
    This living, breathing building with more than 30,000 plants is architecture’s response to climate change. Already proudly a green city, in 2021 Düsseldorf turned even greener with the completion of Kö-Bogen II (KII). Designed and led by ingenhoven architects in an area of more than 42,000 m², KII was the cherry on top of an extensive urban renewal project in the centre of Düsseldorf, [...]
    A Net Zero Future for Hong Kong Real Estate
    Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity today. Over a decade ago, the United Nations-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed greenhouse gas emissions from industrial activities lead to temperature increases, rising sea levels, and irreversible biodiversity loss. Buildings and construction are responsible for 38% of total carbon emissions [...]
    Experience The Art of Living
    A fascinating concept inspired by the seasons of life, The Arles is a highly acclaimed place designed by QUAD studio which creates the exceptional Experiential Hub, an area of natural elements with the inspiration of four seasons to welcome all visitors, and The Art of Life, an artistically tailored show unit specifically designed for an artist’s family. (按此瀏覽中文版) [...]