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Insights How is Hong Kong leading the way in sustainable skyscraper design?

Achieving Net Zero is no mean feat for any company or region. Take Hong Kong, for example, a sub-tropical region that is both high density and high rise. How will the coastal city achieve carbon neutrality by 2050?

It is this challenge that brings many people to set their sights on the unique experience of an engineering career in Hong Kong, but these are not the only professionals helping to build a greener city skyline. Read on to hear how architects, urban planners, design engineers and building surveyors can ensure that Hong Kong continues to lead the way in sustainable skyscraper design.

image of a skyline

Powering skyscrapers with renewable energy

Where does sustainable skyscraper design begin? According to Cary Chan, executive director of Hong Kong's Green Building Council, it starts with the use of renewable energy sources. To remain on track with the Carbon Action Plan 2030+ and meet new carbon emissions reduction targets, the region needs full participation from businesses and communities.

Many skyscrapers now have solar panels installed on their rooftops. The sunlight is converted into electricity and then used to power the building. One of Hong Kong’s most notable structures within the green building movement has taken it one step further. One Taikoo Place is the first to use a waste-to-energy biodiesel system that uses the oil from the building’s restaurant, converting it into energy and using it for heating and power.

Using sustainable materials

It is not only the installation of sustainable technology like solar panels and EC plug fans – which use around 70% less energy than air conditioning fans - that contribute to the greenness of a building. The CO2 emitted when producing the materials and during construction account for 30-50% of the building’s lifetime emissions. To reduce the carbon footprint, design engineers and architects need to consider the use of timber, more sustainable concrete and steel with a high recycling point.

One sustainable practice that is unique to this region is the use of bamboo in place of steel scaffolding. The carefully sourced bamboo can be easily cut down to different lengths – a practice that is especially valuable in Hong Kong’s packed and inflexible landscape. As the focus shifts more towards sustainable materials, there is hope that more will begin to surface.

Embedding green practices into skyscraper design

The Asia-Pacific region is known for its notable infrastructure, both old and new, as well as being one of the most densely populated cities globally. Sustainable construction is the answer to Hong Kong’s housing crisis, but more than that, it is a chance to redesign skyscrapers from the ground up.

Hong Kong still holds the title for having the most skyscrapers than anywhere else in the world, making it one of the most vertical cities. According to Cary Chan, a landscape of carbon-neutral skyscrapers is no longer a pipe dream - it is the answer to building a greener future. The current green practices being embedded into skyscraper design include:

  • The use of Internet of Things (IoT) technology to analyse big data which is then used to achieve better energy efficiency
  • Wind turbines on the roof that generate renewable energy
  • Growing plants below the solar panels that are situated on building roofs. This keeps the building cool and the solar panels cool, making them more efficient
  • AI-enabled building management systems that automatically optimise a building’s heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems
  • Adding foliage to the exterior of buildings to reduce pollution and temperature

Sustainable renovation

Hong Kong is a city steeped in history, a place where skyscrapers meet ancient temples. As each year has passed, new buildings have been added to the skyline. Now, many do not meet 21st-Century standards of sustainable design. The solution is sustainable renovation, and the China Resources Building is a prime example. When it was constructed in the 1980s, the 173 metres building was Hong Kong’s tallest. However, the inefficient mechanical and electrical systems meant it was due a retrofit, including a glazing system that allowed as little as 5% of the sun’s energy to pass through the windows, a more energy-efficient lighting system and a demand control ventilation (DVC) system, among other changes. This achieved a 1,370-tonne drop in the building’s CO2 emissions, showing just how powerful a renovation can be in making Hong Kong’s skyline more sustainable.

Join Atkins and be at the forefront of the sustainable design revolution

Here at Atkins, a member of the AtkinsRéalis Group, we’re dedicated to transforming the way infrastructure is designed, delivered and operated. We are world-renowned for using our sustainability expertise to deliver excellence across a number of markets. Join our team, and you will get the chance to work on some of the most exciting projects.

It is not only the skyscrapers that we are tackling. Our team in Hong Kong are accelerating the sustainable design revolution, upgrading the city’s railway system and incorporating innovative approaches into highway design. Explore our latest opportunities in Hong Kong, or jump straight to our Hong Kong Graduate Program to find out how you can kickstart your career with Atkins.