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Artful Alchemy

The Art of Bringing Art to The Workplace

02 October 2023

Artful Alchemy

The Art of Bringing Art to The Workplace

HSBC Heritage Plaza designed by One Space

The integration of art and office design is a uniquely joyful part of what we do. We’ve been lucky to work with a wide range of businesses that embrace the role of art in the workplace. However, the meaning and purpose of their collections differ, and so do our design approaches.

Curating Private Collections

Family offices and boutique asset management fund owners tend to be especially well-versed in the art world. These savvy collectors ‘know what they like’, acquiring works that are unabashedly personal. As a result, they give us ample creative opportunities when designing their spaces. Our design of Nezu Asia Capital Management’s office is a prime example.

1. Nezu Asia Capital Management’s office: a highly functional trading floor with a showcase of the owner’s Asian ceramics collection.
2. A free-standing museum-quality display wall, creating an articulated backdrop to the space.
3. A sculpted tree root housed as a floating icon for “Nezu”, which contains the character “root” in Japanese.

In every case, our curation, placement and lighting of artworks, large and small, are a choreographed retelling of the client’s passionate narrative about their collection. It’s an enjoyable process to draw out the fascinating stories of their uniquely selected works, which starts with these questions:

  • Why were the pieces chosen?
  • What meaning do they hold for the collector and their business?
  • Who are the artists and what connection do they have to the owner?
  • How does this enriching asset class fit into the client’s investment strategy?

4. An intriguing 3D painting by British artist Patrick Hughes occupies a prominent spot in Comprador’s office.
5. A large-scale colourful piece enriches the arrival experience at this Fortune 100 Global Law Firm.
6. The choice of materiality and lighting dramatises the curation of artworks at Nezu Asia Capital Management.

Legacy Lines: Showcasing Corporate Heritage

By contrast, our multinational clients’ art programmes, through which the brand itself is given expression, demand a different approach to art curation. Unlike the highly personal collections of hedge funds or family offices, these clients’ collections have been built over decades or even centuries, through generation-after-generation of stakeholder decision-making. Individually, each artwork or artefact tells a story about the period in which it was acquired. However, when viewed collectively, a rich tapestry of the business’ heritage becomes clear. Working with these clients, we seek advice from their archivists, who are always an invaluable source of detailed knowledge and insights.

7. & 8. HSBC’s Regional Executive Floor Offices & Galleries: A self-illuminating “veil” within the glazed office frontages provides semi-obscurity, whilst offering continuous visibility of the art collection throughout the floor.
9. To preserve the original spendour of HSBC’s Heritage Boardroom built in 1985, we carefully restored this historical gem, paying homage to its rich legacy whilst integrating the latest audiovisual technology to meet modern needs.

One superb example is HSBC, for whom we have curated and placed countless artworks and historic relics throughout their landmark building at 1 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong. Having resided in the bank’s impressive archives for decades, many of these precious pieces were hidden away from public view, expertly conserved and protected, awaiting only the perfect pride-of-place to share their stories. (Read on to learn more about the most visible example, four massive carved stone lion heads.)

10. One of four massive carved stone lion’s heads recovered from the 1935 HSBC Main Building – which was demolished in 1981 to make way for Lord Normal Foster’s renowned modernist creation – is dramatically inserted into the double-height Executive Floor, merging heritage seamlessly with modernity.
11. Two of the remaining stone lion’s heads were restored and remounted to establish a prominent gateway at the Heritage Plaza on the HSBC Main Building site, returning them to their rightful home.

Lost & Found: HSBC’s Stone Lions Found Their Way Home

The monumental structure located in 1 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong, where the HSBC Main Building is today, had been designed in 1933-35 as a blended composition of Art Deco and Neo-Classical styles. At the time, it was the largest building in the “Far East”, and the tallest in Hong Kong. Sadly, little of this important piece of the city’s history survived its demolition in 1981.

Amongst its majestic features was a series of four massive carved stone lion head column capitals that crowned one of its facades. Somehow, they had indeed been saved; but their whereabouts had not been catalogued. Although one head had been shipped to HSBC’s Tsuen Kwan O Data Centre, the remaining three were largely neglected, all but lost, as they languished in a garden at one of the Bank’s residential sites.

In 2007, when One Space conducted feasibility studies at that residential property, we discovered these colossal and inspiring relics and became determined to ‘bring them home’ to their place of origin. Each carved head weighs between 1.3 to 1.4 metric tonnes, so this effort took extraordinary commitment of all involved.

In 2008, we retrieved the first lion, had it professionally restored, and positioned it beneath one of the building’s signature cross-braces at the uppermost of Lord Norman Foster’s double-height floors, nearby the main Boardroom entrance. The dramatically lighted lion symbolically commands the space, representing the Bank’s powerful pedigree and promising future.

Later, in 2015, One Space was commissioned (in a joint venture with urban design firm Urbis) to design for the Bank’s 150th Anniversary a ‘Heritage Plaza‘ of civic pride beneath the tower’s idiosyncratic glass underbelly and soaring atrium. Hong Kongers will know that the famous pair of bronze lions at the Des Voeux Road frontage are highly venerated, thought to bring good fortune to all who touch them. But the Queen’s Road entrance to the plaza lacked a proper threshold or marker.

At last, the perfect place for the final two stone lion heads became apparent. A new, symbolic gateway to our Heritage Plaza would be framed by these two massive carvings, making a monumental statement as well as a memorable urban design feature. Theatrically lighted from beneath, these remarkable architectural heirlooms help celebrate HSBC’s enduring presence on this site since 1865 as a cornerstone of the city’s history, cultural heritage and commercial energy.

All featured projects by One Space:

1. Nezu Asia Capital Management, Hong Kong

2. Comprador, Hong Kong

3. A Fortune 100 Global Law Firm, Singapore

4. HSBC Executive Floors, HSBC Main Building, Hong Kong

5. HSBC Heritage Plaza, HSBC Main Building, Hong Kong