Innovative prefab housing makes its debut in HK

This article first appeared in City & Country, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on December 28, 2020 - January 10, 2021.
The 17-storey InnoCell has a GDV of HK$800 million (Photo by HKSTP)

The 17-storey InnoCell has a GDV of HK$800 million (Photo by HKSTP)

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Ever considered living in a container home? Perhaps it might not spark interest for most people, but if they see these prefabricated — or prefab — homes, that view might change. Interest in prefabricated homes has picked up pace as people are adapting to different housing styles. Containers are being turned into something durable and versatile, which can then be converted into a tiny home or backyard office, or stacked like Lego blocks.

This is exactly what Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP) is aiming for. It is developing a prefabricated housing project called InnoCell, which is expected to provide 500 bed spaces early next year. The project was awarded second place in the Housing and Institutional (Concept) category in the Rethinking The Future Awards 2020.

Established in May 2001, HKSTP is a public corporation dedicated to building a vibrant innovation and technology ecosystem to connect stakeholders, facilitate collaboration and catalyse innovations to deliver social and economic benefits to Hong Kong and the region.

The corporation manages facilities and provides value-added services for the technology and R&D sector in Hong Kong. These facilities include Hong Kong Science Park (for technology companies), InnoCentre (for design enterprises) and three industrial estates in Tai Po, Tseung Kwan O and Yuen Long (for skill-intensive business sectors).

InnoCell

HKSTP chief project development officer Simon Wong says InnoCell is a residential project serving as part of the supporting facilities of HKSTP, which aims to provide short- to medium-term accommodation and working space for select talent and incubatees locally and internationally. “By attracting talent to Hong Kong and encouraging technological innovations, the city will be able to move to the next stage of economic development,” he says.

Designed by international architecture and interior design firm Leigh & Orange Ltd, InnoCell is located on a 0.73-acre parcel adjacent to the southeast entrance of HKSTP in Pak Shek Kok, Tai Po, Hong Kong.

The 17-storey building, which has a gross development value of HK$800 million (RM418 million), will offer solo studios and twin studios with built-ups of 248 sq ft each, as well as suites with built-ups of 497 sq ft each.

The project is expected to be completed by the end of this year and will be ready for occupation early next year. The rent will be about 60% of the market rent of similar properties in the surrounding area, with rental options of one month to a year.

InnoCell is strategically located, Wong says. “It is easily accessible via Tolo Highway, a major expressway that forms part of the New Territories Circular Road that connects the new towns of Sha Tin and Tai Po in the eastern New Territories.”

The location is close to the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, and within 15 minutes by car and 30 minutes by public bus from the central business district. It is also 30 minutes away from the Chinese border and Shenzhen.

The design of the project is well considered, Wong notes, whereby both aesthetics and functionality are emphasised. “The skilful use of the surrounding environment and the optimisation of natural daylight to the interior, the natural colour palette and environmentally friendly finishes will create a cosy environment for residents to enjoy the urban lifestyle and wellness,” he says.

Wong: By attracting talent to Hong Kong and encouraging technological innovations, the city will be able to move to the next stage of economic development (Photo by HKSTP)

All units at InnoCell are fully furnished with a bed, workstation, bathroom, kitchenette, wall storage and custom cabinetry. Common facilities include a music, reading and games room; gymnasium; and shared working space. The only add-ons are utilities.

“By having a well-designed communal space, we aim to foster interaction and collaboration [between the residents of InnoCell] and demonstrate a strong resilience in the development of innovation and technology (I&T),” says Wong.

He notes that creating a co-living and co-working space for an on-campus accommodation is a new idea in Hong Kong, and InnoCell is the first pilot project that exhibits the modern concepts of smart living and a co-creation community, with innovative building technology using the Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) systems.

What is MiC?

“MiC refers to an innovative construction method that enables off-site manufacturing in a controlled factory, and then shipped to the site for final installation. This method will significantly reduce construction waste and the on-site construction process, and improve construction productivity, quality, safety as well as sustainability,” explains Wong.

This construction method, he highlights, has also been implemented in the US, UK, Australia and Singapore. Hence, we can consider applying it in Malaysia with government approval.

“Unlike the traditional construction method in which houses are built from scratch, [InnoCell’s] prefabricated housing units are built off-site in Jiangmen, China, and then transported to Hong Kong by ship. These units have been stacked by crane on-site since January,” says Wong.

The construction time for each prefabricated building takes about 1½ years, which is five months to a year faster than conventional construction methods.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, Wong says, InnoCell has received positive feedback from stakeholders and strong interest from local and overseas talent, as they believe this project has its own competitive advantage of reinforcing the I&T ecosystem.

“We hope to connect stakeholders, foster knowledge transfer and nurture talent to accelerate technological innovation and commercialisation, as well as develop communities that have an impact on values and [build] structures that are aligned with our inhabitants’ needs,” he adds.