Cover A dramatic spiral staircase links the galleries to a rooftop garden. (Photo: Virgile Simon Bertrand. Courtesy of Herzog & de Meuron)

Ahead of the opening of the M+ museum of visual culture on November 12, we take a look at the architectural wonder’s most outstanding design details

M+ has been in the works for almost two decades, so it’s no wonder there’s so much buzz surrounding its opening this week.

Positioning itself as the leading art and culture institution in Asia, the museum will focus on contemporary design and architecture, moving images and visual art both from Hong Kong and around the region.

The museum is located in the West Kowloon Cultural District and has a gross floor area of 65,000 sq m. The building is designed by renowned Swiss architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, whose past works include an extension of the Tate Modern in London and the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Art right here in Hong Kong.

Read on for some of the key design features not to miss when you visit M+ for the first time. 

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The Commanding Façade

The façade of M+ is an imposing new addition to the harbourfront. 

The building comprises a square podium base and a 14-storey slender tower. Most of the exhibition spaces, split into 33 galleries, are located within the podium. The tower houses a research centre, offices, restaurants and a members’ lounge. When viewed from the side, the structure resembles an upside-down T.

The tower is clad with dark green glazed ceramic tiles. There’s a practical reason behind the material's use—it protects the building, and the art inside, from the elements. But it is also highly adaptable to the environment, reflecting the changing light and weather conditions. 

The façade of the tower is home to one of the most recognisable features of the M+—the harbour-facing LED display. Measuring 65.8 metres tall and 110 metres wide, the screen offers information about the museum and can also display moving image works from its collection, such as animations or videos. It is, as M+ describes it, “a distinctive contribution to the city’s vibrant night-time environment.”

 

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Light and Shadow

An industrial character dominates the building’s interiors—the use of concrete and glass is seen throughout the exhibition spaces. The spaces are kept warm and inviting, however, thanks to the addition of skylights. They allow natural light to pour in at every turn, from the central atrium to levels across the podium. 

Meanwhile, the entrance area is designed so it can be entered from multiple levels and sides, resulting in what M+ describes as a “bright, welcoming platform.” 

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Hong Kong-Inspired Touches

Around the museum, you’ll find bamboo-made furniture—including the reception desks and ticketing counters. This is a nod to the ubiquitous building material seen around the city. 

Curved terracotta tiles are used on some of the walls on both the outside and inside of the building, paying tribute to the architecture of traditional Chinese roofs. As the light changes throughout the day, the colours of the tiles change too. 

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A Subterranean Exhibition Space

An Airport Express railway tunnel that runs underneath the M+ building initially proved to be a hurdle for the museum’s architects, making construction an especially delicate process. In the end, however, the architects took advantage of it and made it a key part of the museum’s design. 

Excavating alongside the railway tunnel, the architects created a subterranean zone that descends deep underground. 

Dubbed the “Found Space”, this area is triple-height and encompasses the basement and ground floors. It will play host to exhibitions featuring large sculptures and installations.

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The Grand Stair Auditorium

The dramatic Grand Stair connects the upstairs atrium with the cinemas below, and can also be used as an auditorium. 

Offering sweeping views of the harbour, this part of the museum is accessible to the public free of charge. The architects intended it to be multi-functional and a space for informal gatherings. 

It is where “the city, the public, and visual culture coincide”, as M+ describes it. 

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