Plotting all land options

money-glitz | Bonnie Chen 29 Jun 2020

To increase land supply, The Hong Kong Institute of Architects president Felix Li Kwok-hing calls on the government to start studying various means, even the controversial ones, such as using country parks and brownfield sites as soon as possible and an urban design plan must come along with reclamation.

"We should give hope to the young people. Each person has only about 100 square feet of living space, this is to compare with about 1,000 square feet for a family of four in Singapore, which has also reclaimed a lot."

He says the HKIA is open to any means as long as the government can offer data to justify the impact on the environment and finance.

"It may take more than 10 years to deal with lawsuits to seize brownfield sites and village houses, but you also need almost the same amount of time on reclamation. Lawsuits have to be dealt with anyway. Why not start earlier? So that, there will be a precedent case to take reference from."

He adds that village houses, which have a standard of about 2,100 square feet and of three stories, should be allowed to build higher, too.

"There are a million commuters traveling southward for work every day. We should have some self-contained community with mixed-use development, which has residential, commercial, retail elements, and community services including elderly homes, hospitals, and schools.

"Reclamation will definitely have an impact on the environment, but we need to see how serious the impact is and if it is acceptable."

With a HK$276.6 billion fiscal deficit, the government has been asked to give up the HK$600 billion Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan that involves a 1,700-hectare site reclamation, which could accommodate 1.1 million residents and 200,000 positions to be created in the new commercial area.

Also, Li suggests increasing the plot ratio of the Government, Institution, or Community sites.

"Many GIC sites only have 5-6 times plot ratio housing one government department. Why can't we have 8-9 times plot ratio ratio like commercial sites, housing 5-6 departments?"

To facilitate construction, Li advocates Design for Manufacture and Assembly, DfMA, that he says would be more efficient than Modular Integrated Construction, MiC, which the government has been promoting.

MiC was adopted to build coronavirus quarantine centers earlier this year.

But Li says MiC has its limits, especially in an environment like Hong Kong, which has many bridges and flyovers that the prefabricated unit has height limit.

"You can't build an office nor public facility such as a hospital due to such limitations.

"With DfMA, you can almost fold up a building, then assemble on site. The building can also be reused. The electrical and mechanical, and temperature controls can be taken into consideration. The interior, and also furniture, can be made under DfMA too."

Under DfMA, the design team is to simplify product structure, to reduce manufacturing and assembly costs, and to quantify improvements.

DfMA has been applied to the design of automotive and consumer products. It has been adopted by builders in recent years for off-site prefabrication of components such as concrete floor slabs, structural columns and beams, etc.

Li says the M+ museum at the West Kowloon Cultural District is a project built under DfMA. He suggests using DfMA for building transitional homes. MiC has been adopted to build a transitional home project at Nam Cheong Street in Sham Shui Po.

"You can only build three stories with MiC and structural enhancement is needed if you want to build higher. DfMC can help if you want to have six to seven floors.

"The best thing is, it can help solve the labor shortage. The average age of local construction workers is 55 years and they need to work even under 30-40 degrees."

Some developers in mainland China and Singapore even have MiC factories. Li says he has visited some of them.

"It's unfair to say that Hong Kong lags behind. Hong Kong's typology is more complicated to have standard structure. Besides, you must have a massive scale demand to have such a factory. Transportation costs matter if the MiC units are made and shipped from mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia.''

Meanwhile, the inconvenience caused by the pandemic has further encouraged the industry to adopt the technology of Building Information Modeling, BIM.

Yet, Li says there are difficulties for the industry to widely adopt it despite government subsidies for related training programs. Firms are required to use BIM for public projects of more than HK$30 million.

"You need to pay about HK$50,000 to buy the software and the cloud and then about HK$20,000 to HK$30,000 every year to renew the service. A medium-size architectural firm needs about 20-30 sets so you need to pay a few hundred thousand dollars for that."

Besides, there is a lack of skilled BIM professionals, although universities have been offering such training two years ago. HKIA has introduced BIM accreditation program in August, but only 21 people were accredited and about 30 are under assessment.

While working for a sizable firm, Li says the company he serves has been using BIM since 2013.

"With the use of BIM, we can walk virtually in the currently developing M+ building. Architects, structural engineers, and building services engineers are all involved and any of the party can make changes. This can avoid abortive work."

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