Building higher up: juggles the way with blocks

Jul 31, 2019

Dr Wei Pan

Dr Wei Pan, Executive Director of Centre for Innovation in Construction and Infrastructure Development (CICID) of HKU.


Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) is recognized to be beneficial for high-rise buildings internationally, especially practical in a metropolitan like Hong Kong. To put it short, the building process of MiC can be as simple as piling up blocks. However, the technology behind is complicated with regards to the design, construction and maintenance of structural buildings.

Professor Wei Pan from the Department of Civil Engineering and Executive Director of Centre for Innovation in Construction and Infrastructure Development (CICID) of The University of Hong Kong (HKU), has been dedicated to the research and development of MiC for nearly 20 years. He believes MiC is the future of construction technology, which will be capable of dealing with various problems, such as labour shortage, land use limitation and severe weather challenge. His research has recently been awarded a major Research Impact Fund by Research Grant Council (RGC) of over 9 million.


High buildings rise above solid foundation

Hong Kong is always recognized as a mountainous city with blooming populations. Most of the buildings were built on limited plain, and designed as tall as possible in order to boost cost effectiveness. “MiC is beneficial from both the perspectives of developers and contractors, as well as residents,” said Professor Pan, who has been working with MiC buildings in the United Kingdom and Singapore, until he found Hong Kong a perfect place to develop the new age technology even further. In such aspect, the 5 benefits of MiC buildings highlighted below could be accentuated in Hong Kong and adopted as foundation to support high-rise buildings. These are also regarding to the figure illustrated in the MiC Strategy Paper published by CICID of HKU as part of a study supported by the Development Bureau of the HKSAR Government:

1. Cost effectiveness
The construction cost will be reduced up to 11-20%. Since MiC focuses more on factory assembly before on-site construction, different modules can be assembled along with foundation drilling and shoring in the meantime. Therefore, there are less labour on-site (up to 25-83%), shorter construction time (up to 15-50%) and improved productivity (up to 50-80%) are observed. Most importantly, accelerated construction leads to faster housing supply, which also benefits residents at the end.

2. Improve environment sustainability
MiC modules can be assembled, painted and framed ahead in factory, thus the construction waste will be reduced up to 67-98%. This helps to turning Hong Kong into a low-carbon sustainable metropolis.

3. Enhance labour efficiency
Labour shortage in construction industry is the result of ageing. With the adoption of MiC, it can relief the labour shortage issue. The labour force can be trained to take over assembling works and stay in the industry longer.

4. Reduce on-site accidents
Risk related to working at height can be reduced, thus, leading to the decrease in on-site accidents for up to 80-100%.

5. Safety enhanced
Rains and typhoon are always the main natural challenge in Hong Kong construction industry. MiC modules are to be preassembled and prefinished in the factory, thus the impact of adverse weather is reduced. Also, the modules design and construction have undergone tests in laboratory to assure safety during construction and structural resistance of super typhoon.


Future Development of MiC

To deal with the issue of increasing population, accelerate supply of high-rise buildings are perceived as more effective solution to address the housing issue. While land reclamation has been considered as part of the housing development traditionally, MiC is recognized as a new construction method to expedite the housing supply.

According to “Construction 2.0” proposed by the Development Bureau in 2018, over the next 10 years, construction investment of approximately HK$2.5 trillion to HK$3 trillion is expected, a material increase over the HK$1.9 trillion recorded in the past 10 years. The challenges of labour force shortage and accelerating cost do exist. MiC was introduced to deal with these challenges, while it is believed to be more cost effective and beneficial to residents. The Development Bureau is also supportive towards the development of MiC, by piloting the use of MiC in several public projects. For examples, the first project to adopt MiC in Hong Kong is the Disciplined Services Quarters for the Fire Services Department at Pak Shing Kok in Tseung Kwan O, which commenced construction in September 2018.

HKU CICID has been dedicated in MiC research and has been working with the Development Bureau and industry closely. Currently, HKU CICID is working to further develop MiC systems. The existing MiC pilot projects conducted in Hong Kong, such as HKU student residence in Wong Chuk Hang and HKSTP Innocell, are all less than 20 storeys. Whilst there are 44-storey steel framed modular building in London and 40-storey precast concrete modular building in Singapore, Dr Pan believed those numbers of storeys should also be possible for buildings in Hong Kong. In his research, building around 50 storeys with MiC is expected to be technically feasible with further engineered MiC systems and more maturity in regulatory support.

“In longer term, universities should be supported more to explore advanced structural engineering and innovative building materials with the aim to optimize MiC technical solution for high-rise and tall buildings in Hong Kong,” Professor Pan conveyed.

Dr Pan and his team

Dr Pan and his research team