What’s Fascinating About a 33 sq km City: Looking Through the Lens of Inspired Architecture

(Apple Store Macau)

Hats off to the world famous design architect Norman Foster, who outdoes himself in creating the stunning front facade of the store that looks like a gigantic Apple device. The marble casing alludes to the White Cube (1) without the snobbery. Foster slices the stone into colossal 1mm thin sheets, reinforced by five layers of glass (2), allowing light to gently permeate.

This is a creation born of artistic courage and open-mindedness. Some compare this marble effect to a “paper lantern”. That’s belittling. Cutting the enormous stone into such thinness calls for utmost respect. No doubt a monument of the tech universe, a pursuit of excellence. The Apple Store in Macau (3) is close to utopia.

(Detail, marble facade from the interior, Apple Store Macau)
(Atrium, Apple Store Macau)

Do I hear birds chirping? Water gently streaming. Quietude and meditative comfort. Tall, straight, bamboo trees line the exterior and culminate in the central atrium, reaching into the skylight. They breathe life into the marble space. Rich symbolism.

Stuntman-like workers scaling a high-rise on a bamboo scaffolding are no strange sights in this part of the world, where architectural construction is done on incredibly strong bamboo work platforms — not steel — a method in use for centuries. The same way for the Apple Store as for highrises of 1000 ft above the ground (4).

Among all that bamboo stands for — wisdom, tenacity and flexibility, to name a few — these trees also speak of scholarly culture in Chinese traditions (5). In front of a huge 35 ft x 15 ft video screen where users enjoy free classes, these trees rise to the second floor, inviting spectators to find out what’s up there.

Just a tiny problem. The stairs are daunting, despite the beautifully sculpted stone banisters. If the elevator wasn’t banished to a dark corner, I would be happier (and might find the store as user-friendly as the tech products themselves).

Such is the psychological impact of shops that benefit residents and visitors alike, spicing up life.

The Apple Store is as much a breath of fresh air from exuberant casino buildings as it is a paradox, like the city of Macau itself. Part of The Londoner, Sands’ latest addition to Cotai Strip, the Apple building is largely funded by Sands the mega casino developer as a business attraction (6).

Like a few of their well-designed flagship casino resorts on Cotai, The Londoner emulates international iconic features. Intriguingly it houses a sculpture of the Greek god Anteros as a symbol of selfless love, like the fountain in Piccadilly Circus, highlighting philanthropy. Although not exactly Robin Hood, it recalls the reality that the casino industry of today is significant in the financial ecosystem, while taking up a socially responsible business model (7). And that includes a few reputable major players that make Macau a more interesting place.

(The Londoner lobby)

Every site-specific design choice can be considered creative.

The Macau workforce, both local and global, is impressively coherent, bringing colors to a city rich in heritage and inspiration, “the springboard for creativity”. For a while I hesitated on agreeing that emulating existing architecture is creative. But then, taking architectural principles of original buildings and transferring them to different scales and locations can be considered creative.

(The Parisian)
(The Parisian lobby)

So now I’ve opened a whole new arena of buildings to be included as creative and/or inspired architecture in Macau. Of these, The Parisian is among the most visible. The architectural firm Gensler, along with interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon, bring home French elegance and splendeur to the building’s interior and exterior. Grey slate mansard rooftops and beige walls emulating French limestone remind me of the months in Paris, wandering along timeless signature buildings, soaking in the unobtrusive beauty (until views of the elegant topiary turn to palm trees on the median!)

Now Parisians might have a different view on featuring the Eiffel Tower at The Parisian, even though the metal structure is meticulously scaled down and a beautiful sight to behold by day — there is a difference between the concepts of adapting and appropriating. The night illumination of the adapted version is a far cry from the Eiffel Tower lighting designer Pierre Bideau’s original creation. This is an understatement, never mind that Bideau’s copyright in 1985 makes any replication illegal until 70 years after his life time (8). Nonetheless, this icon on Cotai gives visitors good anchorage.

(Wynn Palace: From a SkyCab gondola over Performance Lake)

For those who prefer elevation, on the eastern end of the Cotai Strip, Wynn Palace’s SkyCab gondolas glide fluidly over the 8 acres of Performance Lake. Thrills of anticipation come with each dance movement of water jets erupting from the lake, in perfect sync with music from a world class sound system, then a smooth landing on the hotel proper.

A near-intimate encounter with the cherry and cream color portion of the chocolate color main building hints at goodies to come. While at a ski resort, cheese fondue might be a designated warmer on alighting a gondola, here aromatic hot pot — a year-round subtropical regional favorite — on lake side, if desired, is a rejuvenating choice for guests on arrival. The playful mobile element of gondola lifts is a creative architectural concept for an integrated casino resort entrance.

For the discerning few who appreciate ultimate luxury and space, Wynn Palace’s timeless Chairman’s Villas — a creation by the Wynn design team — famed amongst the world’s best, are ready for global and local visitors. Each of the 5 villas comes with a sunken living room that opens up to its private Olympic length swimming pool, lined by landscape that recalls the oceanic pattern.

Creativity is a multi-pronged animal. Meanwhile across the inner harbour, back in northern Macau, visually wild buildings are better seen in the dark when exterior lights come up. Here’s a piece of controvesy…

(Hotel Lisboa Macau)

Dramatically dwarfed by a host of palatial casino buildings since the millenium, the glittery original Hotel Lisboa Macau dominated a past period of Macanese life, for reasons more controversial than the building itself. Back in 1960s-90s, it attracted scores of hardcore visitors ashore for one reason alone — gambling. A monopoly for four decades. A symbol of outsized possibilities. Owner of this casino allegedly accounted for half of Macau’s revenue in prime days (9).

Attempting a compacted, “grandiose Portuguese” look, the cylindrical building with a spiked top was about the promise of excitement in a post-war era — a time contrasted to today’s highly regulated and diverse integrated resort style gaming industry. “Illustrious” doesn’t come close to describing the late owner of Lisboa, Stanley Ho Hung-sun (9), who escaped Hong Kong when it fell into Japanese hands during WWII, and started a famed journey of fortune…

(Sir Robert Ho Tung Library entrance)

Perhaps the most fabled family member is Stanley Ho’s great-uncle from Hong Kong, the very decorated Sir Robert Ho Tung, son of British-Dutch father Charles Henry Maurice Bosman and Chinese mother Sze Tai. It’s no secret that the super tycoon Sir Ho Tung felt so akin to Chinese culture that he changed his family name to “Ho” (10).

In Sir Ho Tung’s will he donated a 19th century mansion in Macau, where he once resided, to be a public library of Chinese books. This now houses an impressive collection of astounding rare ancient books, with furniture to match. White trimmings of arches and Ionic-inspired pilasters, along with cobalt-blue glazed balustrades, characterize the peach-yellow front facade. Contrary to the European outlook, the interior is very Chinese (11). It was this mansion where his nephew Stanley Ho took refuge in 1940s.

(Sir Robert Ho Tung Library, staircase and link bridge)

Macau architect Joy Choi Tin Tin brings the Sir Robert Ho Tung Library into its delicate balance. Choi shows dexterity of a frontline cultural conservationist and intuition in working the contemporary four storeys into the vintage three-storey mansion’s grounds. Visual sensitivity is apparent in this UNESCO World Heritage feature (12).

Two bridges link the Chinese Ancient Book Chamber and library offices at the mansion to the new space. A very long staircase, reinforced with glass railings, provides physical and visual linkage throughout, extending metaphors of the endless, interconnected roads of knowledge (good thing there is an elevator).

Meanwhile, tranquil gardens embrace the two buildings. This oldest library in little Macau (11) is a refuge to readers seeking peace and quiet, perhaps reflecting on the twists of history.

(Coloane Library)

Coloane Library stands in contrasting, simple dignity. The 1911 elementary school building became the smallest public library in Macau in 1983 (13). The building takes all of 30 seconds to walk around — five modest rows of books, four small newspaper stands, one dedicated librarian in sight, and a nursery well appreciated by breastfeeding mothers. Reduced European style colonial architecture are gems in Macau; this one preserves an inspiration in a cosy community.

Six stocky, fluted columns guard the front facade. Their proportions are akin to the “masculine” Doric order, yet improvised scrolls (volutes), symbol of “long-distance communication developments of ancient Greece”, usually found on more slender Ionic and Corinthian columns (14), stand out on the capitals. These columns reassure the viewer of their support, at the same time engage in a dialogue with the forecourt that reinforces a legendary identity.

A Macanese architect remembers in 1993 when artisans from Portugal came to rebuild maritime-themed gravel pavements done in early 1900s, one stone at a time, shipped from Portugal, renewing a few historical sites (15). Pavement work goes on after China regained sovereignty of Macau in 1999, with extended elements to celebrate duo culture.

(Holy House of Mercy; Portuguese-styled gravel pavement with oceanic pattern)

The most noticeable of these ocean-themed architectural hardscapes lays at the tourist hot spot Senado Square (UNESCO World Heritage). Distinct from the Portuguese influenced, colorful cluster of familiar arches and awnings is the Holy House of Mercy (Santa Casa da Misericordia de Macau), a graceful and sensitively designed building with elegant Ionic and Corinthian columns and pilasters, painted a soothing white, with calming effects to the visitor.

The first bishop of Macau, the Jesuit D. Belchior Carneiro, founded this first Western-style clinic on Macau soil in 1569, 13 years before he helped found the Macau Senate — the first local political institution — across the namesake Senado Square. People’s wellbeing comes before political matters.

In the 16th century maritime life was perilous. The Holy House of Mercy took into its care orphans and widows of those who died at sea. The clinic also functioned as a bank and money lender while aiding the most underprivileged (16). Based on Catholic principles, the Holy House extends charity to all, regardless of religion or race, both then and now.

(Looking out from the Chinese stone lions of A-Ma Temple entrance: Portuguese-style gravel pavement with oceanic pattern, Macau waterfront on the far side)

Standing in waves of storied Portuguese gravel pavement is the current A-Ma Temple (媽祖閣), once again merging time and geography, embedding the earliest small stone temple — the Hall of Benevolence of 1488.

Seafarers, fishermen and traders of the southeast Chinese coast collectively believe in Mazu — “Mother of Ancestors” (媽祖), a goddess of the sea, also known as Heavenly Empress (天后). Long before any Europeans turned up on Macau shores, the Hall of Benevolence has been honoring this deified woman Lin Mo from Fujian a thousand years ago, a figure of worship that UNESCO named Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2009 (17).

Legend has it that Portuguese sailors asked natives where they were on landing. Natives pointed to the temple and replied “A-Ma Gau”, referring to “Place of A-Ma”, as it was local customs then for seafarers to first pay homage at the temple on coming ashore. And hence the name of Macau (18).

(Mural from Coloane waterfront)

Each building is a monument of its own, shaping life, big times or small times.

On one memorable occasion just before hopping onto her shuttle bus, a young child in school uniform, aged 5 or 6, casually repeated a sentence she had just learned in four languages: Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, English, and Portuguese. Macanese — that’s a third of Macau population — and non-resident workers both embrace the hospitality industry. Most seem remarkably non-political.

Observant of the world, yet unperturbed. Accommodating and confident. For over 500 years, architecture has been marking Macau’s development. What can 33 sq km do? A positive paradox.

More on this topic:
13 Architectural Examples of Why Good Looks are More Than Skin Deep


(Viewpoints expressed in the article are purely those of the author’s, they do not represent the views of any industry or brand name)

Photo Credit: All photos are by the author
Copyright PseuPending 2021


(1) White Cube — —


(2) Apple Store in Macau — —


(3) About Macau — —


(4) Bamboo Scaffolding — —


Bamboo scaffolding up to 1000ft above ground — —


(5) Bamboo trees in Chinese culture — —



(6) Sands funding of Macau Apple Store development — — The source wishes to remain anonymous as they do not now represent the developer.

(7) Socially responsible business model: Today’s Macau casino industry — —


(8) Eiffel Tower night light — —


(9) Stanley Ho Hung-sun — —



(10) Sir Robert Ho Tung — —


(11) Sir Robert Ho Tung Library — —



(12) UNESCO World Heritage Site in Macau — —


(13) Coloane Library — —


(14) Ionic Columns — —


Corinthian Columns — —


(15) Portuguese gravel pavement in Macau — —


(16) Holy House of Mercy — —



(17) Mazu — —


(18) A-Ma Temple — —


(19) New Central Library, Macau — —



A “Life of Leisure” is a misnomer and a misconception; leisure is a path to the thinking process. Modern Nomad, Contemporary Art Researcher, Lover of Good Eats

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