Property / Construction

Architectural implications of urbanism

by Ada Ng

Dennis Lau, chairman and managing director
Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers (HK) Ltd
Photo: Louis Lam

Beehive of burgeoning economic activities clamours for sustainable domestic development

Demand for high-density, high-rise green buildings is gathering pace in China, presenting mounting opportunities for Hong Kong's top-notch architects to exhibit their world-class creativity as well as superlative industry know-how.

More encouragingly, the development trend is now moving beyond coastal cities like Shanghai and Beijing to less developed second- and third-tier cities on the mainland, according to Dennis Lau, chairman and managing director, Dennis Lau & Ng Chun Man Architects & Engineers (HK) Ltd (DLN).

With a massive injection of infrastructure investment, such markets are fast becoming increasingly accessible with a growing focus now being placed on domestic consumption, says Mr Lau who anticipates burgeoning residential and commercial property trading there in the future.

Rising momentum

Continuous and dynamic development is making mainland property buyers and developers more sophisticated and discerning about sustainable design and usable floor space, Mr Lau remarks. He adds that there is a strong trend driven by the urgency of sustainability to cope with the rapid urban growth in less-developed cities.

Building large-scale high-rise residential and commercial buildings in densely populated areas has always been a strength of architect professionals in Hong Kong, says Mr Lau, who is also chairman of the Association of Architectural Practices.

"Through the years of experience gained in constructing landmark projects in Hong Kong and other places, it is widely recognised that Hong Kong architects produce the best design with an effective use of floor space," he explains. "This expertise is now being effectively employed over the border."

In addition to its offices in Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi, DLN now enjoys a stronger foothold in Beijing and Shenzhen, and is actively engaged in a broad array of consultancy services including planning, architectural design, interior design and landscaping in more than 36 cities across China.

The company has completed three out of 20 world's tallest skyscrapers—the Center and Central Plaza in Hong Kong, CITIC Plaza in Guangzhou and three even taller ones are on the drawing board. Mainland projects amount to about 40 per cent of DLN's business portfolio and these include residential buildings, shopping malls, office buildings and hotels in various mainland cities from Shanghai and Beijing to further north in Chongqing and Mongolia.

One of the major challenges that Hong Kong architects may face when managing design projects in second- and third-tier cities is the difference in culture, Mr Lau points out. "Every city in China has its unique identity and attributes," he says. Professionals in the field also take into consideration the varying geographical features, demographics and social characteristics. For instance, the firm's project in Mongolia requires special window design to keep buildings warm and unsusceptible to the harsh snowy winter.

Greener grass

One of the world's largest and fastest growing economies, China is paying a great deal of attention to environmental protection. Building "green" is fast becoming a trend.
"Mainland developers now adopt a long-term vision and they're willing to invest in a number of sustainable designs and are committed to incorporating environmentally friendly features and facilities that attract multinational tenants," Mr Lau notes.

Buildings with energy saving lighting and facilities made of renewable and recyclable materials are commonly found in new development projects. Special insulation that regulates indoor temperature is also one of the "green" design initiatives.

In its effort to meet such demand, DLN encourages its design professionals to complete the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credential and adopt the LEED standards and processes that are internationally recognised.

Mr Lau believes that the vibrant economic growth in second- and third-tier cities in China will translate into increasing career prospects for Hong Kong architects.

With this in view, DLN re-aligned its business strategies and allocates considerable resources to tap the opportunities. In particular, market research in property development trends, government regulations and property buyers' preferences in various Chinese cities are more important than ever.

To further expand its business outside of Hong Kong, DLN anticipates strengthening its workforce from project architects, design architects to interior designers and draftsmen in the coming years. The company has also initiated a major recruitment drive since last year to attract budding mainland architects. "International architectural and design firms favour talent equipped with international experience as well as local industry know-how," Mr Lau says.

On the rise

  • Development trends moving across to second- and third-tier Chinese cities
  • Property buyers and developers more discerning
  • Sustainability and green issues constitute new industry demand
  • Hong Kong architects may face culture shock
  • Firms to step up recruitment in both regions

Taken from Career Times 5 March 2010, B4

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