The Bank of China Head Office grew from a 3-generation Pei family legacy. Tsuyee Pei, a former director of BOC, gave permission for his son, I.M. Pei, to design the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong. Several years after its completion, the architect was asked to design BOC’s headquarters, but Pei, 77, explained that he could no longer take on such a large project; he agreed to be a design consultant for his architect sons at Pei Partnership. As the building continued family ties, it also continued I.M. Pei’s life-long effort to combine modernism with the essence of Chinese cultural tradition.
The client assured Pei that the headquarters’ site was “the most prestigious in Beijing…in the centre of the centre of the city.” Its location at the intersection of Beijing’s main north-south shopping spine and the great east-west avenue that leads directly to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City is marked at the pivotal corner by an angled glass facade with a crowning skylit board room that overlooks the ancient and modern city. Two enormous box girders on the other exposed flanks allow easy access from both avenues through monumental glass walls that relieve the building’s tremendous mass with transparency and light-filled interior views.
A major design challenge was accommodating the very large building (1.8 million square feet) on the relatively small site (145,000 square feet) within the strict 148-foot height limit – a restriction that Pei himself had championed a decade earlier to prevent tall buildings from intruding on the Forbidden City and its essential relationship with the open sky. The solution was to hollow out the center of the dense 15-story building to bring daylight and views inside. Interior offices look into a great atrium, 180 feet square x 130 feet high, that serves as both a 2-level banking hall and a modern Chinese garden. By special government permission, 40 tons of rocks were trucked a 1,000+ miles from the Stone Forest, a protected national treasure in China’s southern Yunnan province. The rocks were carefully positioned in shallow pools of water that reflect the atrium’s ever-changing light, adding a sparkling, transitory quality to the ageless rock formations. Stands of 65-feet-high bamboo, sourced to achieve the right scale, complete the garden. Continuing the harmonious balance of tradition and modernism, nature improved by man, Pei carved a large moon-shaped wall opening to frame garden views. (Similar circular wall cuts appear at the Louvre and the German Historical Museum.)
Beyond creating a landmark in central Beijing, Pei introduced China to the concept of an all-weather indoor public garden. Also new was a standard of modern building excellence. Clad with honey-colored Italian travertine, inside and out, in clear expression of the bank’s authority, the headquarters’ carefully constructed stone walls became a paradigm of quality for future achievement.
Upon completion in 2001, BOC’s Head Office Building was recognized with the Building Stone Institute’s annual Tucker Award for Excellence in Design in Masonry Architecture, followed in 2002 by an ACEC National Recognition Award for Engineering Excellence, an ACEC Award for Fostering Engineering Excellence, and an IES Lumen Award. In 2003, it was a finalist in the Urban Land Institute’s Award for Excellence, and in 2005, it won First Prize, Interior Design Category, Marble Architecture Award, Internazionale Marmi E Machine.
Design Team: Pei Partnership Architects (Chien Chung Pei, Li Chung Pei); I.M. Pei, Design Consultant