Glazed terracotta tiles in the M+ building. Photo: Lok Cheng. M+, Hong Kong
Looking around the Ground Floor, would it surprise you to learn that some of the most visually remarkable elements of the museum’s design come all the way from Italy? Look at the shiny, dark green ceramic tiles adorning the rectangular pillar in the centre of the information desk, or the walls near the entrances, and you’ll see what we’re talking about. When you leave M+ later, look up at the building and you’ll see them stretching across the exterior walls, too, reinforcing that dialogue between inside and out.
These surfaces are all actually clad in thousands of glazed, terracotta tiles. The ceramic used is made from a special clay mixture which was prepared at a factory in Chianti, Italy—it’s a region that’s famous the world over for its rich clay deposits. In the factory, generations of expertise and craftsmanship ensured that the clay was extruded into shape, glazed, and fired to the highest of standards. Over 430,000 of these individual pieces were then transported to Shenzhen for assembly into much larger precast units, before finally being shipped on to Hong Kong, and installed right here.
This kind of distinctive, textured cladding with a real sense of materiality is a signature of all the buildings designed by M+ architects Herzog & de Meuron. To see what we mean, why not get a little closer to some of these tiles. The grooves show you where the modular panels have been slotted together, and their cracked ice pattern is reminiscent of antique ceramic vases. Notice how their semi-cylindrical designs seem to undulate across the walls and columns like a bamboo forest, and how the green hues shift and change depending on the angle you look at them from, or the intensity of the light hitting them. This lively visual effect keeps the walls and features of M+ dynamic, constantly interacting with their surroundings, and echoes the museum’s wider role as an evolving and engaging showcase for visual culture.
Both these and the more wavy panels used on the building’s external facade take inspiration from the glazed terracotta tiles of traditional Chinese roofs, a building structure used for over 2,000 years, and still seen across Hong Kong today. It’s a historic, Asian point of reference, brought to life in the foothills of Italy, and now bringing a fresh, modern sheen to Hong Kong’s harbourside.