Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
International Commerce Centre, Hong Kong
Written by David Mallot, Kohn Pederson Fox Associates
Posted January 2011

This paper was originally featured as a case study in CTBUH Journal 2010 Issue IV and is also available as a PDF download.
International Commerce Centre was recognized as a "Best Tall Building Asia and Australasia Finalist" in the 2011 CTBUH Awards Program.
Other Featured Tall Buildings
“With its simple flanged form, ICC dominates the medley of towers of the surrounding area of West Kowloon and creates a gateway to Victoria Harbor with Cesar Pelli’s
2 IFC on the other side of the water.”
- Peter Murray, CTBUH 2011 Awards Juror, New London Architecture Centre
Hong Kong
484 m (1,588 ft)
356,838 sq. m.
Primary Use


Sun Hung Kai Properties

Design Architect
Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates
Associate architect
Wong & Ouyang
Structural Engineer
MEP Engineer
J. Roger Preston Group

Project Manager
Harbour Vantage

Main Contractor
Sanfield Building Contractors Ltd

This shimmering tower serves as a beacon to the Hong Kong Harbor, creating the perfect gateway with its counterpart, 2 IFC. The way in which the scaled façade sweeps outward at the base into a grand canopy is beautiful and creates a strong relationship with the rest of the Kowloon Station Development. The building is an elegant silhouette—the fourth tallest in the world.

Transit Integrated Tall Buildings: A Sustainable Paradigm
Beyond its picturesque profile, ICC speaks to the promise of the tall building as a sustainable paradigm, in which individual buildings form part of a larger ecosystem of vertical centers linked by horizontal networks of public transportation.

Increasing density in city centers is more effective in preserving land resources and reducing energy usage than the alternative of urban sprawl. Amongst high-income societies, Hong Kong ranks as the most efficient in annual per capita energy use at 2,600 kgoe (kilograms of oil equivalent) compared to 4,180 kgoe in Germany; 7,885 kgoe in the United States; and 10,350 kgoe in the UAE (OECD 2007, OECD 2008).
And while Hong Kong is associated with images of busy streets and concrete jungles, only 2% of its total area is urban or built-up. Forest, grassland, and cropland constitute 72%, and wetlands and water bodies make up 25% of Hong Kong’s total area (World Research Institute 2003). Examples of building high-rise density atop rail stations such as New York’s Met Life Building over Grand Central Station (1960) and more recently KPF’s JR Central Towers in Nagoya, Japan (2002) established fundamental principles for integrating the tall building with transit. In Hong Kong, the practice has achieved a high level of integration and scale. This is made possible by the combination of strong central planning, a powerful transit authority (Hong Kong’s MTRC), and an innovative development culture.

Sited above Kowloon Station, ICC is integrated with a public transportation infrastructure that carries 11 million passenger journeys per day (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region 2009). ICC’s success as a development stems from is its seamless connections with Central, Hong Kong International Airport, and mainland China via a network of high-speed rail, subway, buses, and ferry terminals (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Vertical circulation zoning
Tower Design
KPF won the commission to design ICC through an invited competition in 2000. For the competition entry, a partnership was formed with Leslie E. Robertson Associates to create a tower form that would combine the best possible structure with the best possible floor plate. For instance, a tower geometry based on a circular floor plate would perform well in the wind, but would be undesirable to Hong Kong’s financial tenants, who prefer the efficient layout of square floors. Conversely, a perfectly square floor plate would perform poorly in the wind and lead to an increase in steel and concrete – an unsustainable proposition. An analysis of preliminary wind tunnel studies indicated that a square with notched, or “re-entrant,” corners would exhibit nearly the same wind response as that of a circle.
Figure 2. Tower base
From this initial form, the massing was refined by gradually widening the re-entrant corners towards the top and inclining the upper third of the main façades by one degree to create the tower’s elegant silhouette and improve its wind response. The tower’s eight mega-columns splay out three degrees to widen the tower’s dimension at its base, significantly reducing the tower’s overturning moment, while providing longer clear spans for hotel and exhibition facilities.

The tower’s chiseled façades give way to gently sloped curves at its base. These curves lift off from the structure as a cascade of overlapping shingles to create sheltering canopies for the office and hotel entrances on the three sides overlooking the harbor (see Figure 2). At the north, the façade sweeps down in a dramatic gesture towards the center of the Union Square development, enclosing the “dragon tail” atrium (see Figure 3). This atrium serves as the public face of the tower and the primary connection to the rail station.
The main façades are articulated as four planar elements extending partially beyond the re-entrant corners and rising above the tower roof as sheets of glass to form the tower crown. Initially designed as cantilevered curtain wall panels, the façade extensions later incorporated a triangular return to create enclosed bay windows at the corner offices to direct views of the harbor. At the tower base, the triangular returns split from the main façade to form distinctive markers framing the lobby entrances.

Design Principal William Pedersen sculpted the tower’s curtain wall into a series of overlapping panels, each one-story high, which he likened to shingles on a roof or the scales of a dragon. The shingled curtain wall generates a kaleidoscopic play of light and shadow, as it mirrors different parts of the sky, de-materializing the tower’s immense mass while relating to the viewer through the repetition of tangible human-scale elements. Viewed from below, the serrated profile formed by the underside of the shingled panels gives the impression of the building skin breathing like a giant bellows.
Figure 3. “Dragon tail” atrium
Combined with the curved lines of the dragon tail and canopies, the articulation of the façade provides a gentle lift as the tower just barely hovers above the podium promontory. It is at this moment, as the tall tower kisses the ground, that the expression of connectivity finds its poetic resolution.
Tower Façade
The architect collaborated with the façade engineers at ALT Cladding Consultants to break down the apparent complexity of the curtain wall system into a few highly repetitive components. Each shingled panel is rotated exactly five degrees with respect to the “smooth” geometric surface, yielding just three wall types consisting of 5, 6, and 8-degree panels from the base to the top (see Figure 5). The catenary, or curve, of the dragon tail was approximated by three tangential arc segments of varying radii that, when subdivided, yielded panels of equal dimension which were similarly rotated five degrees from the defining geometry. According to Permasteelisa, who fabricated and installed the curtain wall, three-quarters of the total façade area was built up from only 134 panel types.

Environmental Performance
The aesthetic appeal of the tower’s external envelope is matched by its environmental performance. Sheathed in silver, low-emissivity insulating glass, the tower’s single layer skin provides the maximum protection from solar heat gain while deploying a minimum amount of façade material. The silver coating has the unique quality of reflecting the heat-generating spectrum of sunlight (infrared, ultraviolet), while allowing the desirable visible light spectrum to transmit through the façade.
The optical properties of the glass, supplied by Shanghai Yaohua Pilkington, include an emissivity rating of 0.15, a visible light transmission of 4%, and a shading coefficient of 0.27 – more than three times the protection of uncoated glass.
Figure 4. Section
Moreover, the shingled panels provide self-shading of the main façades, with horizontal baffles in the re-entrant corners providing additional shading of the façade. In conjunction with the high-performance façade, ICC features the “Energy Optimizer" system developed with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Integrated sensors and energy consumption monitors analyze data for day-and-night and seasonal variations to provide a baseline for adjusting the HVAC system to reduce energy consumption. According to Sun Hung Kai Properties, ICC will be the first building equipped with the new technology, which is expected to reduce energy consumption by 15% compared with the average office building.
More than an iconic statement, ICC fundamentally alters the way tall buildings are seen today. Rather than objects in isolation, transit integrated tall buildings represent a sustainable model for future high-rise development. ICC, through its economy of structure, scale, and form, achieves a balance of efficiency and artistry. Its understated elegance speaks to a future of tall buildings that need neither twist nor strain to achieve new heights and lasting relevance.
As a development, ICC is a strategic real estate success that lives up to the building’s name.
Figure 5. Façade detail
According to Sun Hung Kai, 90% of the office space is leased or spoken for. First phase tenants include Morgan Stanley and ICICI Bank, India’s second biggest. Deutsche Bank and Shinhan Bank, Korea’s largest, are in the process of moving into the tower’s second phase. Third phase tenants include Credit Suisse and ING Asia Pacific.

Related Links
CTBUH Skyscraper Center Profile:
Visit ICC's Profile

ICC featured as a case study:
Download the Paper

CTBUH Journal 2010, Issue IV

International Commerce Centre was recognized as a Best Tall Building Asia & Australasia Finalist in the 2011 CTBUH Awards Program.
Download the International Commerce Centre 2011 CTBUH Awards Book section

2011 CTBUH Awards Book

ICC featured as 2nd tallest in Tallest 20 in 2010:
Press Release
Tallest 20 in 2010 Poster

CTBUH Technical Papers:
Three Mega-Tall Buildings in Hong Kong
The Foundation Design for Two Super High-Rise Buildings in Hong Kong, referred to as "Union Square"

The CTBUH would like to thank Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates for their assistance with this article. Images/drawings © Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.