Pandemic Learnings from the HKIA’s Recent Webinar Series
Ian Tan 陳昱宏
Social distancing measures brought forth by Covid-19 have put a moratorium on physical gatherings around the world. They have not, however, stopped the Hong Kong Institute of Architects (HKIA) from moving its series of quality seminars online for the continued benefit of both its architecture fraternity and Hong Kong’s building industry. Launched in late February, just a month after the first Covid-19 case was announced in the city, HKIA’s webinar series has since organised four monthly events, each revolving around the theme of ‘Building a Healthy City.’
Invited speakers came from a range of backgrounds: some were architects in private practice, while others worked for public agencies such as the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HKHA) and Architectural Services Department (ArchSD). There were also professionals from allied disciplines, among them representatives from the Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC) and the Hospital Authority, and academics with expertise in anti-epidemic building designs who shared their views on how Covid-19 will change the way we design, build and utilise public space in the future.
The webinars were received warmly judging from the number of attendants for each session. Shifting from in-person seminars to virtual webinars not only allowed our speakers to share their thoughts from the comfort of their home or office, the format also transcended the physical constraints of HKIA’s premises, with up to 500 people, including members of the public like myself, taking part. I had the opportunity to join the fourth session, held on May 28, headlined by Ms Winnie Ho, Deputy Director of Architectural Services at ArchSD, and Mr Stephen Leung, Assistant Director (Development and Procurement) at HKHA. Winnie provided a timely update on how the city’s de facto public works department played a crucial role in meeting the logistical challenge of housing suspected and recovering Covid-19 patients, while Stephen touched on the public housing provider’s efforts in raising sanitation and healthy living standards in densely populated residential developments.
Winnie talked us through the seemingly impossible task of constructing four new quarantine camps concurrently at Penny’s Bay on Lantau, Lei Yue Mun Park on Hong Kong Island, and at the Pat Heung JPC Permanent Activity Centre and the Sai Kung Outdoor Recreation Centre in the New Territories. Among the factors that enabled the completion of these camps within a two-month time-frame were leveraging a building information management system to facilitate design and engineering considerations across the four sites and using modular integrated construction (MiC) methods to coordinate the off-site prefabrication of quarantine units in Malaysia and China with on-site electrical and mechanical works. Most importantly, Winnie reiterated, was the dedication displayed by design, site and factory workers who laboured through the construction industry’s traditional Chinese New Year rest period. Following the successful implementation of MiC technologies for the quarantine camps, ArchSD is now exploring the possibility of combining two or more modular units to form family units or holiday camp bunks in anticipation of repurposing the four camps for post-pandemic functions.
Steven’s talk opened with a broad introduction to HKHA’s efforts in sustainable public housing design, such as adopting micro-climate studies to optimise natural ventilation, mitigate against solar heat gain and ultimately reduce energy consumption in an urbanised living environment. The part of his talk which attracted most attention, however, was his elaboration on the development of a W-trap drainage system. The development of this system arose from Hong Kong’s SARS pandemic in 2003, when a significant virus load discharged through the sewerage system of the Amoy Gardens housing development in Kowloon Bay permeated through dried-up U-traps within the drainage stack. The HKHA, working with academics from City University, subsequently remedied this shortcoming with the W-trap system that uses wastewater discharged from the wash basin to periodically replenish drainage traps and so prevent odours and air-borne viral droplets from spreading. This feature has been implemented in HKHA projects since 2008. The risk of viruses spreading through contaminated sewerage stack became a pertinent public issue once again recently when community outbreaks of Covid-19 occurred in February and June at the Cheung Hong Estate in Tsing Yi and the Lek Yuen Estate in Sha Tin respectively, prompting public calls to upgrade sanitation systems in ageing housing estates.
The webinar series organised by HKIA has created a direct means of fostering communication and knowledge exchange between architects and building professionals in private and public practice. Upcoming sessions now being organised by the HKIA in collaboration with other professional institutes such as the Institute of Planners, Institute of Landscape Architects and Institute of Surveyors will aim to shed light on issues that cut across the different building professions and encourage the greater inter-disciplinary cooperation necessary to rebuild a post-pandemic society.
More information on the ArchSD’s efforts in constructing the quarantine camps can be found in the Forum.
Ian Tan is a PhD candidate at the University of Hong Kong researching iron structures constructed in 19th century colonial Hong Kong and Singapore.
Images of HKIA Events (Credit: HKIA)