March 2002

Empire Hotel Kowloon

Ready for relaxation

Weary shoppers deep in the maze of Tsim Sha Tsui now have a new place to turn to, for a rest, a cappuccino in a comfortable sofa and a spot of surfing too. And it's not Starbucks. 
¡@¡@The Zino Coffee Bar & Lounge occupies a cosy corner on the mezzanine level of the newly opened Empire Hotel Kowloon. Offering 40 deep, high-back sofas in a dim, quiet setting that could easily accommodate 100 chairs, the beverage outlet is a contrast to the typical hotel bar, where alcohol rather than coffee tends to be the theme.
¡@¡@In fact, due to a combination of circumstances, the hotel as a whole is different from others in many other ways.

¡@¡@According to Kevin Leung, project director of Asia Standard Project Management Ltd, the site at the Kimberly Road/Kimberly Street junction originally consisted of two lots which were amalgamated into one by the company. The developer spent a long time deciding whether the hotel should have its main facade facing the harbour or the prominent junction. Which was just as well, because by the time a decision was reached, the airport had moved to Chek Lap Kok and the height restriction had been raised from 200 ft to 320 ft, thus allowing the developer to build an extra 80,000 sq ft of space, for a project with a total gross floor area (GFA) of 140,000 sq ft.
¡@¡@As for the decision itself, it would surprise many a Hong Kong hotelier, because it was in favour of a facade that faced away from the harbour. It made perfect sense, however: although the hotel is located in Tsim Sha Tsui, the site is quite a distance away from the waterfront. The road junction, on the other hand, is vital to the hotel's interaction with its customers. Placing the main facade there allows the hotel to draw in not just stay-in guests but also casual customers looking for, say, a place for lunch, as income from food and beverage (F&B) outlets is an important source of revenue.
¡@¡@The view, however, is by no means lost: most of the rooms enjoy either a harbour or mountain view, depending on their location within the hotel.
¡@¡@The 27-storey Empire Hotel Kowloon has a total of 315 rooms, including 23 suites. Due to site configuration, the larger, fan-shaped block is connected to the smaller, rectangular block via a corridor. Both are serviced by a lift core located between the main block and the corridor. There are four passenger lifts and all are fitted with custom-made dot matrix doors. Infinite numbers were deliberately chosen for the number of dots -- 11 across and 39 down -- to symbolise lasting prosperity.
¡@¡@The building's massing is to a great extent the result of its function as a hotel. There are different options for providing every room with a window, but it was determined that, in this case, both views and the number of rooms could be maximised by designing a main building which fully utilised the fan-shaped lot. This led to the creation of a hotel with 20 room bays per floor accessed via a corridor that circles an open internal atrium.
¡@¡@Under the building regulations, the atrium would be counted as part of the GFA if it was enclosed. It was therefore left exposed to the elements, thus creating an interesting indoor/outdoor swimming pool at the bottom, above the podium. Mr Leung said various reflective devices would be fitted to the walls of the open atrium to bring natural light into the centre of the swimming pool. In the meantime, the extra GFA allowed the developer to build more rooms in a second block. 

The guestrooms
The irregular shape of the building generated guestrooms of unique sizes averaging 250 sq ft per unit. To create a sense of space, each room enjoys a greater than usual floor-to-ceiling height of 11 ft. In terms of design, the emphasis was placed on practical simplicity. Apart from the en suites, there are only two room types, twin and queen; and two neutral schemes apply to all the guestrooms.
¡@¡@"Our boss was keen to build a hotel that would last for at least 20 years, so he's in favour of a more enduring, 'cyberlook'. The headboards for example have unembellished timber panels," Mr Leung pointed out. "Business travellers also prefer simple interiors."
        Space is skilfully maximised. Televisions are fitted on moveable wall mounts and luggage racks are retractable. A wireless keyboard -- it will beep if taken outside the guestroom -- offers access to an internal entertainment network as well as web surfing. One thoughtful feature is the desk, which consists of a glass top sitting on steel legs several inches above the wooden surface, creating a see-through space in place of a central drawer. The design, as Mr Leung explained, was the direct consequence of a study of typical guest behaviour.
¡@¡@"The hotel carefully arranges a lot of literature on each desk --  information about the hotel, travel information, the room service menu "and what do the guests do when they arrive? They quickly sweep them away and toss them into the drawers. With this desk, the hotel can put all the information on the desktop, under the glass; the guests don¡¦t have to sweep away anything in order to use the desks, and the information is always visible without being in the way." 

The public spaces
The guestrooms start at the eighth floor. Below them are two floors of staff facilities and the fifth floor is the swimming pool and fitness centre. In the podium below, there are two levels of car parking accessible via a lift and turntable, as there is little room available for ramps. The remaining podium levels are occupied by, in descending order, a Japanese restaurant, the coffee shop, the coffee bar and lounge and finally, the lobby.
¡@¡@The Japanese restaurant, Daidaiya, is divided into two sections, a more public area adjacent the lift lobby and directly connected to the entrance lobby via a glass staircase; and a more private area reached through a long corridor. Used for atmospheric effect, the corridor is paced by a line of candles leading into a sanctum decked out in long hanging scrolls that accentuate the height of the space. Although the neutral beige and black are the same as the more public space, the sense here is one of austere ornateness.
¡@¡@By contrast, the coffee shop below, Empire Kitchen, is bright and airy, with colourful custom-made sofas and chairs overlooking the entrance lobby in front and running along a slate floor towards an open kitchen at the back. The entrance lobby void provided the opportunity for creating a quiet corner in the coffee shop. This has been turned into a cyber corner with several Internet-enabled booths, for those who prefer to surf and eat undisturbed.
¡@¡@On the mezzanine floor, red fabric panels provide a soft background to a cosy coffee bar and lounge. It is divided into two parts, a "greet" area near the staircase where customers can more easily catch friends they are meeting; and a more private section for deep conversation. Taking a leaf out of the Starbucks book, Zino Coffee Bar & Lounge also comes equipped with a cyber corner. Purple squares set in the floor, designed by Hirsch Bedner & Associates as a theme for the public areas, lead to a steel door at the back of the coffee bar. On the other side is a conference room to be used by the developer for various functions in the future.
¡@¡@The F&B facilities are linked to the lobby by a glass staircase that doubles as the focal point of the lobby.
¡@¡@In the lobby, the simplicity of the guestrooms gives way to a sense of opulence. Two large columns were turned into special features through the application of polished plaster to create an undulating surface. This was then painstakingly overlaid with gold and silver leaves. This richness is echoed in the treatment of a main facade that features Roman columns and marble mouldings. The public levels of the podium are clad in clear glass, to enhance the public interaction with the hotel.
¡@¡@A special lighting consultant, Tino Kwan & Associates, was engaged to come up with lighting schemes for the hotel. At the human scale on the ground, a glowing podium will draw the attention of pedestrians. At the top, where the hotel has to compete for attention amidst Hong Kong's dynamic skyline, floodlights have been positioned to radiate light like the spikes of a crown.
        The hotel was completed in October 2001.

Vinstar Development Ltd

Asia Standard Project Management
project manager

AA Architects

Hirsch Bedner & Associates
interior designer

CM Wong Associates
structural engineer

Consolidated Consulting Engineers
e&m engineer

LCT Contracting

-- Building Journal