The design process for Three on the Bund began in 2000 and took two years to complete. Master architect Michael Graves and his team, led by the Harvard-educated Lyndon Neri, designed many of the interior spaces.
The design team had several specific goals. One was to bring the vibrant activity along the Bund and on the Huangpu River inside, which they achieved by strategically placing mirrors in the restaurants. Another was to create a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere. This was particularly challenging given that the Union Building was built in an era when classicist ideas of architecture defined a conservative social hierarchy. Opulent entrances and ornate spaces greeted the privileged, while the lower classes entered their cramped quarters from hidden back doors.
Graves and Neri sought to remove such social barriers by creating a welcoming and accessible environment for all.
At the same time, it was important to create a sense of luxury, while protecting the integrity of the original design.
"We established the sense of luxury through the use of custom-designed furniture and high-end natural materials, such as marble, copper and brass leaf, and silk," said Thomas Rowe, Principal-in-Charge. "It was relatively rare at the time to see historic restorations of buildings of this scale, and we felt that the use of natural materials reinforced the authenticity of the original building."
Several interior features of the building were preserved during the remodelling, including the cornices on the third floor gallery and eight fireplaces. The floor design in the Jean Georges restaurant is derived from an original pattern.
While many assume the building's original design was sacrificed to create Three on the Bund's soaring atrium, in fact, the architects inserted new architecture into an empty space.
Founding Principal Michael Graves said of the project, "It was important to us to create dining experiences with lasting value and not just something of the moment. People should want to return to these special places many times over."
In 2006, the Hong Kong Design Centre chose Three on the Bund as one of six recipients of the "Best Design from Greater China" in the Design for Asia Awards. The Design for Asia Award is presented to companies achieving business success through good design while having an impact on the Asian lifestyle.