The Berlage

Session Room K

On the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Headquarters

Stephanie Williams

The headquarters of the Hongkong Bank designed by Norman Foster, 1985.

"If you stand still these days, you are in fact moving backward," declared Michael Sandberg, the chairman of HSBC in 1978, the year before Norman Foster was commissioned to design its new headquarters. Built on the island of Hong Kong, on the border with a China still closed to the world, the design was an audacious response to a unique time and place. When Foster drew up his proposals, the technology to finish the building did not exist. Moving off from her book, Hongkong Bank: the building of Norman Foster’s masterpiece, Stephanie Williams will take us behind the scenes to consider the background to commissioning this headquarters, the politics and personalities, and key moments of its design and construction. What has this building meant to Foster’s practice?  What impact has it had on the Bank? And what is its ongoing influence on the architectural imagination?

Stephanie Williams is a writer and author.  A Canadian based in London, her first story was published in The Guardian when she was 21. She went on the specialize in writing on architecture and the environment. From 1979–1982 she lived in Hong Kong where she reported for the South China Morning Post, Asian Wall Street Journal, and UK newspapers and magazines ranging from the Architectural Review to The Sunday Times. Out of that came the commission to write Hongkong Bank, the inside story of building Norman Foster’s ground-breaking headquarters for HSBC. This was followed by Docklands in 1993. Further books include Olga’s Story, on her grandmother’s role in the Russian Revolution, and Running the Show, based on an 1879 questionnaire that revealed the extraordinary conditions under which British colonial governors and their families lived around the world. Stephanie has worked in television, on exhibitions and served on boards for the Arts Council, the National Archives, housing associations, and charities.  

This spring’s series, entitled “Money Talks,” looks at the architecture associated with the storing, trading, management, digitization, and centralization of money. Topics will include the history of the Bank of England, the competition for a new commodity exchange in Amsterdam, the design of banknotes, the commissioning of the headquarters of one of the largest banking and financial services institutions in the world, the post-war development of London’s financial center, among others. Speakers will include Daniel M. Abramson, Herman van Bergeijk, Martin Gran, Carol Patterson, Lauren S. Weingarden, Amy Thomas, and Stephanie Williams.