Science Park container homes, on schedule for September, offer a Hong Kong test case for prefabrication’s possibilities

Lilian Cheng

A prefabricated housing project catering to technology expats is moving toward its targeted September completion despite the coronavirus outbreak, and will be ready to take 500 tenants at a discount early next year, its creators say.

The use of cargo containers have already proven their use in the quick construction of quarantine sites in Hong Kong and mainland China, but the units in Science Park are serving as a further test of just how the concept can help the city cope with shortages of both housing and construction workers.

Since January, hundreds of modular units have been delivered from the mainland to Science Park in Sha Tin, where builders have piled them like Lego blocks up to 16 storeys high.

Each has been elaborately fitted with decorations and furniture including beds, desks, cupboards and toilets. The only thing yet to be added is water and electricity connections.

“Targeting technology expats, we hope these homes can cultivate a co-creation and community culture, and attract international talents coming to work,” Simon Wong Yuk-sun, chief project development officer of Science Park, said in an interview with the Post.

“Before, they had to look for hotels and flats, and now we can offer units that are located next to the park, and companies can even rent a co-living studio, putting colleagues together,” he added. “Tech experts, including academics, can also make short stays and give classes inside the building.”

Simon Wong Yuk-sun, chief project development officer at Science Park, sees the new prefabricated units as a way of attracting international tech talent who would work nearby. Photo: Winson Wong

The HK$800 million InnoCell project, announced in 2017, was developed on 31,000 sq ft site at the park, providing 500 beds ranging from solo and twin arrangements to suites to large co-living studios with shared kitchens and living areas.

All of the buildings will feature common areas including social hubs, discussion corners, and relaxation areas on each floor.

Estimated monthly rent for a furnished unit of about 248 sq ft in size is expected to be around HK$9,000, roughly 40 per cent cheaper than market price in the area.

The homes are expected to open for applications early next year, with rental options ranging from one month to a year.

Unlike traditional construction methods in which workers use scaffolding to build from the ground up, the prefabricated housing units – built off site in Jiangmen, Guangdong, last year – are stacked by crane.

The prefabricated units, stacked like Lego blocks, allow the buildings to go up in just 18 months, five months to a year faster than normal. Photo: Winson Wong

One of the first prefabricated home trial sites in the city to receive government backing, Wong said they have overcome challenges ranging from design to the transport of the units, which initially arrive by ship.

Each of the 248 sq ft units comprises a 2.1 metre long and 1.2 metre wide bed along with a desk, wardrobe and toilet.

“We did research and a survey on the size of the beds that expat and foreigners might prefer, and came up with a larger-than-expected bed size,” Wong said.

Each unit is 7 metres long and 3.1 metres wide, wider than a typical vehicle, meaning special care also had to be made to ensure they could be transported to the site smoothly.

The construction time for each prefabricated building has clocked in at 18 months, five months to a year faster than conventional methods.

Both the government and the construction industry have welcomed the concept, saying it will not only relieve pressure on the housing market, but on a construction sector dealing with a dwindling and ageing workforce.

Answer to Hong Kong housing crisis lies in container homes, says consultant

“Singapore and England are very mature with this technology already, and have proved it’s beneficial to the industry as a whole,” said Eric Chan Chi-wai, assistant secretary of the government’s Development Bureau. “Workers are safer as they no longer have to work mid-air, as all the installation process can be completed in a clean site on the ground floor.”

Overseas examples have seen costs reduced by 10 to 20 per cent, labour needs by 25 per cent, and construction time minimised by 15 to 50 per cent.

Several transition housing projects in Hong Kong, dedicated for use by low-income families, have also made use of prefabricated container homes, though with less decorations and furniture.

Among them, a 90-home project in Sham Shui Po, is expected to accommodate 154 residents who have waited for public housing for more than three years. They will pay no more than a quarter of their monthly salaries for rent when moving in later this year.

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