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Construction and Innovation

The progression of civilisation goes hand in hand with innovative thinking.  Take a simple example: Can you figure out the functions of stones?  They are used to light fire, carve on cave walls, serve as weapons, build houses and lay drainage pipes.  They are also added to concrete mixes for the construction of taller and stronger buildings.  We human beings use creativity to continue our exploration of new realms and lead society to move forward.  Hence the importance of innovation.

Similarly, the construction industry in Hong Kong requires a constant injection of new ideas to help us solve complicated and ever-changing problems to meet the diverse needs of the community.  In recent years, the Development Bureau has been vigorously exploring a new source of land supply  cavern development.  As we all know, Hong Kong abounds with hard granite, a material suitable for cavern development.  We can relocate some suitable government facilities into caverns to release more valuable above-ground spaces.  A case in point is the relocation of the Sha Tin Sewage Treatment Works to the caverns at Nui Po Shan under planning.  By doing so, not only can we move an obnoxious facility elsewhere, but we can also release 28 hectares of precious land.  Currently, the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) is carrying out a study on the long-term strategy for cavern development while preparing Hong Kong’s outline cavern development plans and formulating technical guidelines related to natural lighting, ventilation and fire prevention.  In addition, the CEDD is exploring the feasibility of developing caverns into underground quarries so as to enhance the economic benefits of the whole project.  This approach of “trading stones for spaces” is one of our innovative attempts in the construction industry.

In addition, innovative technologies can also help the construction industry solve many operational problems and enhance its production efficiency.  One example is the Building Information Modelling (BIM).  Construction works projects generally require full collaboration among professionals of various disciplines, contractors, sub-contractors, workers and different systems, and the actual situation at construction sites is often complicated and ever-changing.  Without an effective and efficient communication channel, errors are bound to occur in works, while bold and innovative construction proposals will be even harder to implement.  In view of this, the Government and the industry are actively promoting the application of BIM, a technology that use computers to generate virtual 3D models, which enable participants of construction projects, including architects, engineers, contractors, suppliers and practitioners, to receive project information at the earliest instance and facilitate effective communication.  Meanwhile, by simply inputting data into BIM, we can timely identify and resolve problems which may occur during construction, thus reducing time and financial loss due to construction errors.  In addition, the use of BIM can even enhance the details and accuracy of prefabricated components.  As an effective communication platform, BIM has also indirectly encouraged the construction of more eye-catching and innovative buildings.  The Jockey Club Innovation Tower at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre at the City University of Hong Kong are two successful examples.  Currently, there are 34 government works projects of various types using BIM at different works stages.  Furthermore, BIM can improve the efficiency of maintaining and managing the development projects in future to reduce costs.

For the use of machinery, the construction industry overseas has delivered initial results in the use of robotics and exoskeletons.  Robotics can enhance the accuracy in assembling fine parts at construction sites.  It can also improve the working environment at work sites, safeguard workers’ safety, and enhance project quality and productivity, and can even attract more young people to join the industry.  In the past two years, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) has made great efforts to set the standards of BIM, and enhance training and promotion.  I would very much like to see the CIC take an active role in promoting robotics technology in Hong Kong as well.

Innovation does not necessarily involve cutting-edge technology.  Simple yet clever arrangements can also be an innovation.  Take Kowloon East as an example, we have integrated innovative thinking with its old industrial culture to promote its transformation into a green central business district.  By promoting the innovative idea of “walkability” in Kowloon Bay and Kwun Tong Business Areas, including enhancing the green area, revitalising back alleys, building more footbridges, as well as improving the footpaths and pedestrian crossing facilities, we enable the public to enjoy leisurely strolls in the district.  We are also exploring to introduce a number of innovative technologies to the district, including low carbon building design, a district cooling system and a real-time public transport information system, so as to create a more comfortable and environmental-friendly community environment.

All in all, innovative thinking can enhance the efficiency and productivity of the construction industry, ensure its sustainable development and create a better living environment for the community.  To encourage innovation, the CIC launched the first CIC Innovation Award this year and held the award presentation ceremony at the Government House last Tuesday (December 15).  There were three categories in the competition, namely Local Academia, Local Industry Practitioners and International.  Young Innovator Awards were specificially granted to encourage local young academia and industry practitioners to showcase their innovative ideas, so as to nurture innovative ideas for the construction industry.  It is encouraging to see that the competition received overwhelming responses from both local and international participants.  I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the winning teams.  I believe that their hard work and the breakthroughs they made will become role models for the industry, which will lead the innovation development of the local construction industry to thrive further and benefit our society.

 

20 December, 2015

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