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Club Lusitano, A Portuguese narrative for Hong Kong

Hong Kong, Fragrant Harbour, the Pearl of the Orient has a storied history, inspiring many a writer and movie director to dream up stories, some based on truths and others conjured up from romantic notions centred around this city of legends that was ceded to the British in 1841 and reverted back to China in 1997 after a scant 156 years of spectacular growth and development.

People of many creeds and cultures have harmoniously co-existed here for very many decades, the most well known of whom were the British minority and the Chinese majority.

Many entrepreneurial Portuguese and Macanese (Macau Portuguese) moved to Hong Kong shortly after it was ceded to the British and later became pivotal in the development of Hong Kong. Macau had been founded in 1557, so the Portuguese utilizing their long understanding of the Chinese culture and business protocol, extensive familial networks across Asia, as well as their local language skills, became a vital bridge to commerce and industry between the British and the Chinese.

The first Club Lusitano was a beautiful classical edifice built in 1866 shortly after the ceding of Hong Kong 25 years earlier. Established by prominent Portuguese merchants, it was an early sign of the influence, importance and commitment of the Portuguese in the young British territory.

Acting as vital intermediaries in government and business, the Portuguese community always chose discretion and low key diplomacy as their modus operandi when navigating between the Chinese and the British. It is for this reason that the Portuguese contribution to Hong Kong’s growth and development is sometimes under recognized.

Fast forward to 2021 and the fourth iteration of the Club Lusitano now on Ice House Street in the heart of Central, Hong Kong, crowned by the famed Cruz da Ordem de Cristo, a symbol associated with Portuguese discoveries during the Middle Ages.

An opportunity arose for Remedios Studio, led by Peter Remedios who is of Portuguese / Macanese origin, to be involved with the re-branding of the eponymous Club Lusitano Building, following upon his involvement on the club’s committee to drive a very successful, total renovation of the club facilities a few years ago.

To enter the club building of Duddell Street meant first passing the gaping dark hole of the club’s garage entrance, something of a real eyesore along Duddell Street, before arriving at the steep and hazardous steps leading up to the secondary but more popular entrance. In a dialogue with the owners, a brilliant idea was hatched to turn this hideous space into a beautiful pedestrian and vehicular drop off, capturing a sense of grandeur that befitted the stature of the original classical edifice, not unlike the experience of an exclusive European boutique hotel, thus completely uplifting the entry experience of an office building.

This was achieved by creating a sense of formality with a portal to the exterior, inspired by the original architecture of the 1886 Club Lusitano building, with subtle use of the Portuguese Cruz de Cristo in the signage.

Upon entering, the design conjures up memories of “Carriage Entrances” in grand European buildings, resplendent with landscaping, water spills and Portuguese mosaics and paving patterns, brought to life however in a way that is thoroughly modern whilst capturing the roots and legacy of one and a half centuries of the Portuguese in Hong Kong.

The eye is initially drawn to two magnificent rotating green walls that serve not just to enhance the perception of a Portuguese courtyard, but serve to disguise needed access for mundane operational functions. These are separated by a delicate water spill for visual and aural calm, thus creating a safe haven within from the bustling city beyond.

A circular theme was developed for the Portuguese courtyard concept to integrate an electrically operated vehicular turntable to ease the handling and ushering of vehicles into the car lift that is lined in a luxurious diamond quilted burgundy coloured faux leather … making it perhaps the most seductive looking car lift !

Due to it's original garage usage, all materials had to be non combustible yet still look soft and luxurious. We chose to panelize the major wall surfaces in a smooth buttery limestone for a subtle sense of European formality and introduce incombustible wood grained (metal) fins for the open ceiling and wall trellises strengthening the feel of a courtyard garden while concealing a plethora of plumbing and building service installations within this space that needed to be accessible for maintenance.

The Lift Lobby deep within the building, traversed through the “Carriage Entrance” or courtyard carries the look and feel further with a whimsical video display at it’s far end, appearing much like a window overlooking the most alluring classical European gardens, thus completing the aura of the Portuguese presence we wanted to capture.

One of the major technical challenges we faced was how to make a space that is open to the street, necessitated for vehicular traffic, climatically comfortable for pedestrian traffic in a climate that is often hot and humid, and to do so in a way that is still sensitive to sustainability issues. The solution called for very selective “spot cooling” at strategic locations, allowing a very gradual temperature change from the street outside to the lift lobby deep within. Gone is the usual fogging up of glasses so normal in Hong Kong as this functions so seamlessly that you’re not actually even aware of the temperature change.

In repositioning the Club Lusitano building, we strove to deliver unique and memorable “moments” in the daily lives of the building’s end users and visitors, through the innovative weaving of architecture, design and engineering to deliver upon a promise of creating a fulfilling and holistic design. It is the commitment to creating such “Moments” that will become dash lines of enriching experiences that define our lives and our memories that is our mantra at Remedios Studio and the very core of our design philosophy for innovation.


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