LWK + Partners adopts MiC method for sustainable construction

Covid-19 has brought both challenges and opportunities, with various innovations flourishing and new technologies finding their ways to advance further. In April 2020, LWK + Partners, a leading design architecture practice in Hong Kong, completed the temporary quarantine facilities in Sai Kung Outdoor Recreation Centre to assist the government’s response to the pandemic situation.

The project, delivered in collaboration with Paul Y. Construction and Paul Y. – iMax, is one of Hong Kong’s pilot cases for modular integrated construction (MiC). According to LWK + Partners, it took only 77 days to design and build three blocks of three-storey facilities from scratch, setting the city’s record.

“MiC is an innovative construction method based on the concept ‘factory assembly followed by on-site installation’. Freestanding integrated modules are fabricated, finished and inspected in the factory before being transported to the site for installation. On-site processes like foundation works can be carried out all the while the above takes place, substantially raising the levels of efficiency and quality,” explained Paul Ng, director of LWK + Partners, who oversaw the development of the quarantine facilities.

Hong Kong’s first adopters

There have been previous examples in mainland China, Singapore, the UK and the US. “Singapore is leading the way in Asia with relatively mature technologies, providing references and benchmarking for others in the region,” said LWK + Partners. “In Hong Kong, MiC is still in its early stages. The approval process takes a much longer time and involves complicated preparation.”

Last year, LWK + Partners and Paul Y. – iMax took the initiative to work together on an MiC installation system, which secured ‘pre-acceptance’ from the city’s Buildings Department. This provided critical technological foundations for the temporary quarantine facilities in Sai Kung Outdoor Recreation Centre.

As one of Hong Kong’s first architectural firms to adopt the MiC method, LWK + Partners has garnered experience in both design and management. The project will join the company’s pool of common resources shared across its extensive global network, ready to be integrated into different types of future projects, and serving as an illustrative example for the whole industry.

Piloting an efficient, quality design in Hong Kong

The three blocks of three-storey temporary quarantine facilities were built on the mini football pitch of Sai Kung Outdoor Recreation Centre. Every building consists of 33 temporary units, making up a total of 99, all with their own toilets and connected through steel staircases and open-air corridors. While the modular units were made in factories, the steel staircase and semi-open corridors were built on site. 

“A single corridor design was adopted to contain the virus spread,” said Mr Ng. “We placed all corridors at the front of the building and the bathroom vents at the back. The blocks are arranged front-to-front or back-to-back to ensure a clear divide of ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ air.” 

However, transporting huge modular units posed a major difficulty, added Mr Ng, “due to their massive size compared to ordinary construction material. These units must be transported by sea and then overland. Site constraints must also be overcome to get them properly delivered. Border restrictions during the pandemic also meant that the modules could not be manufactured on the mainland. The team quickly turned to Malaysia and managed to complete the project within a limited time frame.”

Increased resilience and sustainability

With MiC, a lot of on-site works were transferred to the factory. Quality control becomes more effective, thus improving the standards of delivery, explained LWK + Partners. Factories are weather-proof and provides a better work environment, potentially drawing new blood into the industry, which bolsters both capacity and resilience.

LWK + Partners further pointed out that, as the total construction period is shortened, MiC brings down the costs of labour and building materials, while carbon emissions and possible nuisance to the community are reduced. It will also speed up market supply to better accommodate long-term demand for housing and function space in dense cities.

But more importantly, it presents a potential driving force for sustainable development and circular economy. “MiC leads to less construction wastage and raises cost-effectiveness overall,” noted Mr Ng, “Modular units can also be brought back to the supply chain to be ‘reused’, extending the life-cycle of building materials and relieving the pressure on the planet’s resources. At the Sai Kung temporary quarantine facilities, the project team has designed certain flexibility in the units so that they can be reused in transitional housing in the future.”

Architecture ‘will never be the same’

LWK + Partners highlighted that the global trend of MiC points to a new approach to building, shaping workflows and the way projects are planned and designed. The building industry is set for a revolution.

In a bid to promote wider use, the Hong Kong government reportedly announced a policy in March 2020, making MiC a requirement in future tenders for specified types of public capital works projects, including staff quarters, hostels, residential and care homes, schools, office buildings and medical facilities, as well as staircases and communal areas of the above where possible. This applies to tenders where the total construction area exceeds 300 sq m.

Though MiC is now predominantly used in the public sector, it is expected to expand to different types of real estate as technology progresses, affecting the industry in Hong Kong, the Greater Bay Area, the whole mainland China and Southeast Asia.

LWK + Partners said it will continue exploring the possibilities brought by MiC, making the best use of its own extensive international experience in building information modelling (BIM) and valuable support from isBIM Limited, a sister company also under C Cheng Holdings Limited. “The expanded use of MiC promises efficiency and quality, helping the firm respond with agility and timeliness to the rising demands for the built environment on the back of a growing urban population across the world,” concluded LWK + Partners.

Images 1,2 and 3: Paul Y. - iMax
Images 4 and 5: LWK + Partners