By Jennifer Abbasi, contributor
FORTUNE -- A steep tram ride takes visitors up to the Peak, an exclusive mountaintop neighborhood that overlooks Hong Kong’s stunning skyline and Victoria Harbor. The Peak was originally home to expats during Britain’s 155-year occupation of Hong Kong, which ended with the 1997 handoff to China. Its newest and most notable addition is the Opus Hong Kong, an opulent development from HK-based Swire Properties.
The 12-story twisting tower is world-renowned architect Frank Gehry’s first residential building in Asia. Yesterday, Swire informed me that its ninth-floor, 6,683-square-foot unit with panoramic views of the both the surrounding forest and the harbor-side skyline recently sold for more than $58 million -- that’s $8,784 per square foot -- making it one of the world’s most expensive residential properties, and the most expensive in Hong Kong. In August, the eighth-floor unit sold for more than $55 million. The Opus was actually conceived of as a rental property, and the first tenant, who leased a double-level garden apartment with a private pool, is paying roughly $110,000 per month for the next three years. (Meanwhile, an analysis released yesterday by real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield reports that retail rents on Hong Kong’s glitzy Causeway Bay shopping strip just overtook New York’s Fifth Avenue to become the priciest in the world.)
Gehry designed the curved vertical struts on the building’s exterior to resemble reeds swaying in the wind. The organic notes pay homage to Hong Kong’s surprisingly lush landscape. Less than a quarter of the city, which houses some 7 million residents in just 426 square miles, is developed, with 40% of the area’s total land dedicated to parks and nature reserves.
High-rise living is the norm in Hong Kong. But with a finite footprint allotted to development, demand for housing is outpacing supply and driving up costs; residential prices are expected to rise by up to 15% by the end of the year. Cash-rich Chinese buyers are snapping up properties at a breakneck pace, fueling tensions between HK and the mainland. During my visit, my guide told me that while goods and services are cheap in Hong Kong and the quality of living high, most residents can’t afford to buy property there and are forced to rent for life.
The HK government recently implemented taxes to counter the trend. On October 26, the Financial Secretary announced that the Special Stamp Duty, a 2010 ordinance that discouraged quick flipping of residential properties, would be continued with higher penalty rates and the holding period extended from 24 to 36 months. A Buyer’s Stamp Duty was also implemented on residential purchases, imposing a 15% tax on buyers who are not Hong Kong permanent residents. The government has also announced plans for 65,000 new housing units to come onto the market over the next three to four years, at a pace of about 20,000 apartments per year, according to property consulting firm Knight Frank. If only they were designed by Gehry.
Here are some additional photos: