The Peak Of Style
High above Hong Kong’s teeming streets and shoebox apartments, an enclave of extraordinary private mansions nestles on the tree-draped slopes of the island’s highest mountain. These remarkable residences – designed by the likes of Sir Terry Farrell, Frank Gehry and Robert A.M. Stern – are home to some of the world’s wealthiest individuals, for whom prestige and privacy are absolute necessities.
The Peak – which covers the 552-metre high Victoria Peak itself as well the surrounding highlands – emerged as Hong Kong’s most exclusive residential square mile after the island’s sixth British Governor, Sir Richard MacDonnell, built his summer home there in around 1868.
Today, millions of tourists flock to The Peak to marvel at (and Instagram) spectacular views over the city and harbour, and to experience the acres of jungled parkland humming with dragonflies, birdsong and butterflies throughout the year, which lie just a seven-minute, near-vertical tram ride above Hong Kong’s bristling skyscrapers.
International star architect Sir Terry Farrell’s futuristic entertainment complex, Peak Tower, completed in 1997 and located around 150 metres below the mountain’s summit (which is occupied by telecoms paraphernalia), is probably the most recognisable – and certainly the most visited – structure on the mountain. Likened by some to the Chinese symbol for profit, and by others to a wok on legs, its anvil shape is a distinctly post-modern take on traditional Chinese architecture. As the upper terminus of the historic red Peak Tram, Farrell’s first project in China is the first stop for most visitors to the mountain, while the building’s Sky Terrace 428 is probably the most photographed-from point on the entire island, offering majestic views across the roaring, glittering Hong Kong below.
It’s away from the iPhone-toting crowds, however, that The Peak comes into its own as one of the most exclusive, expensive and desirable residential addresses on earth. Many of the original grand colonial residences and embassies have been replaced by even more luxurious homes, owned by a Who’s Who of international ultra-wealth. When property price records are broken in Hong Kong, it’s invariably on The Peak.
In 2015, Alibaba founder Jack Ma reportedly paid HK$1.5 billion/USD $0.18 billion (about HK$150,000/USD $19,300 per square foot) for a 9,890 square-foot house at 22 Barker Road – previously owned by the former CEO of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and originally built in 1949 as the Belgian Consulate – making global headlines as the second most expensive home in the world, and smashing Hong Kong’s per-square-foot price record.
A year later, in the summer of 2016, records were again topped when reports circulated that Chinese property tycoon Chen Hongtian had paid around HK$2.1 billion/USD $0.27 billion for a not-yet completed 9,212 square-foot home at 15 Gough Hill Road. The house was Hongtian’s second purchase on The Peak within a year, after he decided that a HK$380 million/USD $49 million 5,154 square-foot apartment in the nearby Frank Gehry-designed Opus building “was a little bit too tiny”.
“Tiny” is not a word that springs to mind when describing Gehry’s first Asian project, completed in 2012. The intensely innovative 13-storey Opus tower houses just 12 apartments, each occupying an entire floor of the sinuous building that seems to gently twist upwards, as the architect describes, “like bamboo in the breeze”.
Developed by one of Hong Kong’s oldest property firms, Swire Properties (which had owned the site since the 1940s), Opus broke Hong Kong price records when it was first built, with the auspicious eighth-floor apartment selling for a reported HK$470 million/USD $60.6 million. But its architects – Gehry and local firm Ronald Lu & Partners – are at pains to emphasise it is design, not price, that defines the project. Opus “is unique not because of its desirability, the expense of its finishes or materials,” says Gehry, “and not because of its exclusivity but it is desirable because the architecture is at the heart of its success.” And the location helps.
Design and prestige are as entwined here as the clematis and trailing aerial roots of the surrounding sub-tropical forest. One of the most significant recent property developments on The Peak, Mount Nicholson, is taking this premise to heart. Developer Wheelock Properties has curated a star chamber of international firms – including New York’s Robert A.M. Stern Architects, Yabu Pushelberg, Alexandra Champalimaud, and local design gurus, Wong and Ouyang and LWK & Partners – to deliver 19 vast detached houses and 48 apartments, all with resolutely five-star facilities.
David Collins Studio – the celebrated London-based design team behind interiors at The Wolseley, Nobu, Claridge’s and The Charles in New York – was brought on to work on two of the flagship houses at the development, devising interiors that hark back to The Peak’s colonial heritage, “channeling different influences from the classic British home” to create one classic and one contemporary vision.
Despite new projects such as Opus and Mount Nicholson markedly increasing the number of landmark homes available on The Peak, demand for grand residences in this global enclave above Hong Kong continues to outpace the supply, with the world’s billionaires often pouncing on newly released developments within hours of launch (the first Mount Nicholson residence was sold merely three hours after becoming available).
But with such world-class design talent brought to bear in such a breathtaking setting, it’s little wonder that property values on The Peak are as steep as the banyan tree-clad slopes.