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Atelier Nuno Architects Create Reason To Pause In HKU Faculty Lobby

A circulation space at the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine becomes a poetic social space after a renovation by Atelier Nuno Architects.



BY Narelle Yabuka

October 29th, 2019


The main lobby of the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU’s) Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine was formerly, like many lobbies in Hong Kong, a grand space lined with stone. It was ideal for catering to high foot traffic but offered little to enrich one’s experience of the space, either visually or socially.

Atelier Nuno Architects were commissioned to renovate the lobby and immediately saw an opportunity to bring people together on campus and encourage new ways of relating to the environment.

“Upon my first visit, I saw pockets of spaces for mingling, but there wasn’t a dedicated area where the school could come together,” says Nuno Da Silva Tang of Atelier Nuno Architects. “In Hong Kong there is a constant struggle for space, so I took this opportunity to offer as much space as possible to students by creating a gathering hub that serves the medical campus.”

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“We have given the lobby back to the students as a way to celebrate the school.”

– Nuno Da Silva Tang

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The Faculty of Medicine building is positioned on a tree-lined hillside away from the main HKU campus, and has west-facing windows that bring abundant light into the interior as well as green views. The spark for Atelier Nuno was to conceive the renovated lobby as a space that would be experienced simultaneously with its surroundings. This precipitated a student-centred reinvention.

“The question for us was: How can a high-traffic circulation space be part of a school?” says Da Silva Tang. The lobby connects the front entrance, main lifts and stairs that lead to four lecture theatres and supports the movement of hundreds of students at a time. The existing wide staircase was reshaped with sitting platforms beside a narrower staircase. While movement is still supported, so too is sitting and chatting.

“Sitting steps are now daily used for groups to chat between classes and the deep balustrade countertops offer ad-hoc laptop work stations and quick lunches,” explains Da Silva Tang. “The choice of beech wood added warmth in the monochromatic space.”

White was chosen as the main colour for the lobby given its association with the medical profession and as a way to foreground the natural setting that appears so vividly through the windows. “We wanted to catch the light with a design that fills the space and engages with the human scale,” says Da Silva Tang.

White-painted curved plywood brings a play of light and shadow to the walls. White powder-coated perforated aluminium sheets (just 0.8 millimetres thick) are suspended from a structural frame on the ceiling. Light permeates the scalloping sheets, bringing focus to the day’s ever changing light condition and mimicking the filtering effect if the tree canopies outside.

Although the lobby’s ceiling height is 6 metres, the billowing forms are dropped to 2.05 metres to encourage a more intimate experience of the space and the light effects within it. This brings an ‘ordinary’ material into focus – a deliberate strategy of the designers.

“In Hong Kong, luxury materials are typically celebrated, while more modest alternatives often go overlooked. White-painted finishes and perforated aluminum panels can be found in familiar spaces such as bus stops and underground rail stations; the commercial white paint used for the walls of the lobby also predominates elsewhere on campus. The prominent position of these ordinary materials in the lobby is meant to emphasise the possibilities of the everyday and, in an academic context, to suggest that all students have the means to succeed,” says Da Silva Tang.

The School is particularly pleased with the outcome. Says Gabriel Leung, the Dean of Medicine, “Our newly renovated lobby is the built expression of HKUMed’s core mission to enrich the total learning experience; it has been transformed into a much-loved gathering spot for students to socialise and connect with one another outside of class, and will surely become a landmark of our campus for years to come.”

Atelier Nuno Architects is also involved in the design of a 7,000-square-foot collaborative learning space on the medical campus, which is currently under construction. Look out for coverage of this project on Indesignlive.hk.

Photography by Edmon Leong

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Lobby Renovation at HKU Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine

Client: The University of Hong Kong
Designer: Atelier Nuno Architects
Lighting Consultant: Tino Kwan Consultants
Total floor area: 3,000 sqft