Building confidence – Hong Kong’s first offsite modular housing

InnoCell courtesy of Leigh & Orange Architects

Former WSP lead engineer for Hong Kong’s first ever modular integrated construction (MiC) project Thomas Tong – now a General Manager of Innovation and Technology at the Hong Kong Construction Industry Council – considers the challenges and opportunities of leading the way.

Innovation can seem a mysterious, conceptual thing. To me it simply means asking ourselves the question – “Is there a better way to solve the problem?”

Here in Hong Kong (HK), we have been putting our minds to the problem of how to help meet the urgent need for affordable homes.

InnoCell project Hong Kong Modular Construction
InnoCell courtesy of Leigh & Orange Architects

We think offsite construction can help – and we’re pioneering it in Hong Kong

As lead engineer on Hong Kong’s first-ever modular construction project, we’re using our industry-leading global expertise to help make modular integrated construction (MiC) techniques a viable solution to the region’s housing shortage – not only for this pilot project, but for government roll-out region-wide.

MiC involves the offsite manufacture of modules in a factory-controlled setting – complete with internal finishes, fixtures and fittings – to be assembled at the project site. It allows for significant savings in construction time and costs while improving construction safety and quality.

Here’s what we’re working on …

The InnoCell Residential Institution is located on a 2,825 sq.m site at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Park (HKSTP).

It’s part of the government’s drive to promote offsite construction for higher productivity, increased standardisation, safety and efficiency. The project will feature a 17-story residential complex providing approximately 500 bedrooms and amenities such as a gym and multi-function rooms with a total gross floor area (GFA) of about 15,300 sq.m, and is scheduled for completion in December 2020.

Being first brings challenges … and opportunities

Serving as Structural Engineering and MiC Consultant, as part of our role WSP secured HK’s first ever MiC pre-acceptance approval in 2018.

Of course, pioneering any new approach brings challenges – and opportunities to find a ‘better way.’

Because MiC construction technology is new to Hong Kong, there’s a lengthy government statutory approval process to resolve the technical challenges associated with this new construction approach and ensure it complies with current building regulations. This is unavoidable, especially as the intention is for the approach to be widely adopted and refined in forthcoming MiC projects.

More practical challenges include trucking in offsite elements to site, as the width restrictions on HK roads mean special vehicle permits are required. To solve the problem longer-term, we’re working with universities to develop an innovative module that can be contracted and enlarged for multi-storey modular building. So, we can make it small, transport it – and then expand it onsite with minimum site work.

Introducing offsite is a journey we’re committed to …

It’s been an exciting journey. We’ve been involved in several MiC pilot projects through the whole project cycle, including statutory approval, from feasibility study to full engineering design, procurement and supervision work.

We’re helping draft guidelines for offsite construction, to ensure the system can be implemented correctly. And, we’re involved in studies which look at using lighter, stronger and more environmentally friendly materials to improve the performance of this construction approach.

We’re also working with experienced MiC vendors in mainland China and Singapore to develop their system so it can adopt and fulfil Hong Kong building regulations, as well as optimising them for high-rise multi-storey structure application.

Because we believe our expertise can make a difference to people’s lives.  

Our social responsibility has taken us far beyond structural engineering – we’re also supporting a government transitional housing scheme to bridge the gap for those living in urgent need of homes.

The InnoCell project is just the beginning … and we hope it will pave the way for the government to use offsite construction for buildings across the region and beyond, to help ease the great demand for affordable homes in the most cost effective – and soonest – way.