Pushing the boundaries

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 39, Summer 2014

Page 57

Pushing the boundaries

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 39, Summer 2014

Page 57

Pushing the boundaries

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 39, Summer 2014

Page 57

Pushing the boundaries

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 39, Summer 2014

Page 57

Bonhams now has a dedicated auction saleroom in Hong Kong. And, says Giovanna Dunmall, it's quite a show

Only months after opening the elegant £30m revamp of its headquarters in New Bond Street, London, Bonhams now has a sleek, hi-tech saleroom in central Hong Kong. This is the company's first dedicated saleroom in Hong Kong and it ends the need for Bonhams to hire preview and sale spaces in the city's luxury hotels, still a widespread practice among auction houses there which limits the way they can run their business.

The new saleroom is on the 20th floor of One Pacific Place, part of the famous commercial, leisure and hospitality complex. It is a very different proposition to Bond Street, which combined existing Edwardian and Art Deco elements into a technologically-advanced contemporary building. But it clearly echoes the well-crafted, sophisticated look and feel of the London HQ.

The architects behind both creations, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, are responsible for such projects as London's successful new Jewish cultural center JW3 and many award-winning commercial and high-end retail schemes. They wanted to use the same design language and values in London and Hong Kong. "In both cases we've gone for as lofty a space as possible," said Alex Lifschutz, founding partner of the practice. "And, like in London, we wanted to create as nimble a set of spaces as possible that can be transformed for auction, exhibition or event purposes and exposed to as much or as little daylight as necessary."

In Hong Kong, the ceilings were taken out and the services raised as high as possible to create an airy saleroom with 2.77m floor-to-ceiling heights: Lifschutz says it has generous proportions for a commercial tower building. Flexibility was achieved with folding acoustic wall panels that can be closed to create long walls for hanging art, pushed aside to make a large single space, or two salerooms, or partly closed to create several spaces that can act as galleries or offices (though there are permanent offices and interview rooms on the same floor).

"The partitions have been specially designed and manufactured to rotate, so that you can open them at right angles and create smaller niches where you can display art in a more private way," says Lifschutz. "The key thing is the ability of the architecture to respond to the particular kind of art that is being displayed. So you can create either intimacy or grandiosity by the arrangement of the panels."

The design includes a dramatic linear gallery and, at the center, a reception area that can be relocated when the entire floor is needed for a party or sale. The usual set-up will be reception in the middle and one gallery or saleroom on either side. "But it's very much about using the space to its absolute best advantage," Lifschutz says. And with one wall entirely of windows, and fully glazed paneling around the reception area, there is no sense of enclosure across the entire venue, and there is a constant, alluring possibility of light and views.

As in the London HQ, Bonhams in Hong Kong has opted for leather, timber and stone that will last and express durability and quality: the reception desk is fronted with quilted leather and topped with dark stone to set the tone. Some of the least visible but most effective elements of both designs are improved cooling and ventilation, sophisticated AV systems, online bidding systems, and high-quality LED lighting, which the architects pioneered in the Mayfair building. "This is pretty much the first time it has been used in a gallery," says Lifschutz. "It has all the right color values to pick up the inherent colors of ceramics, paintings or art." What looks like a large rooflight above the reception areas is actually an illuminated background; its color can be changed across the day to create and enhance a mood.

I ask Lifschutz about the core qualities of the design, and what they communicate about the company. "This is not just about interior design," he answers, "this is about creating space, light and dimensional qualities, and that is architecture." In his view, this architecture has durability. "Bonhams has chosen to anchor their brand to something that has longevity, and a particular sort of quality that goes beyond the everyday and here and now."

Despite its international presence and global aspirations, there is something very British about the architectural design for Hong Kong. Lifschutz says: "Clearly the technology is very much a British thing. Very high-end engineering is still one of this country's great industries – and the fact that it is so well-crafted also makes it British."

The Hong Kong saleroom will set new standards for Asia. It may not have the historic stage setting of the Mayfair HQ, but it is still all about theater. As Lifschutz says, "It's the theater of selling and the theater of buying, the theater of exhibiting and presenting art." Something that Bonhams will do the best.

Giovanna Dunmall writes about architecture for Wired, Wallpaper* and Condé Nast Traveler, among other publications.

Bonhams, One Pacific Place, Hong Kong +852 2918 4321

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