A Global Issue
Affordable Housing Project CHAMONIX in Vail, Colorado from Prefab Logic / Source: Prefab Logic
MBI was recently asked to participate in an international conference organized by Hong Kong
University and hosted by the Construction Industry Council of Hong Kong. The conference centered
around Hong Kong’s planned use of “Modular Integrated Construction” (MIC) to address their housing
Hong Kong has one of the highest development costs in the world, coupled with low land availability,
low skilled labor availability, and a large population. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated
countries in the world (ranking fourth behind Singapore) with over 17,348 people per square mile.
For comparison, the US ranks 188th with 86 people per square mile and Canada ranks 235th with 10
people per square mile. As a result, Hong Kong ranks as the second most expensive area globally for
construction development, behind only New York City.
Hong Kong has virtually no modular industry today,
yet government officials are considering steel modular
construction for high-rise buildings to house residents.
This is not unprecedented as several presentations during
the conference documented progress in other parts of the
world. For example, Singapore had no modular industry
five years ago, and today four modular public housing
projects, each topping 30 stories, have been completed.
Five years ago, Australia’s modular industry largely
consisted of relocatable buildings and workforce housing.
Hickory Group has completed a 43-story building, with
a 44-story building about to be complete. While more
of a panelized system, this progress towards alternative
construction techniques is stunning.
MBI Director Tom Hardiman (center) speaking on a panel
addressing affordable housing in Hong Kong, with Tim Hall
of Buildoffsite UK (left) and Michael Hough of MJH Structural
Engineers of Ireland (right).
In the U.K. it is estimated that new housing construction
needs to double to reach the government’s goal of
300,000 new units annually by the middle of the next
decade. The U.K. modular market is much more mature
than most other regions, with tall modular structures
dating back more than a decade. MBI organized a tour
in 2008 to visit U.K. factories as well as a 17-story and
24-story modular student housing projects. Today, 20+
story modular structures are occurring with much more
regularity in the U.K.
While there are obviously many differences in overseas
markets, there were some striking similarities.
- Hong Kong, Singapore, and the U.K. are smaller
geographic areas with limited land availability. As a
result, these regions have been forced to adopt high
rise construction years ago because they have nowhere
to go but “up.”
- Hong Kong, Singapore, U.K., and Australian markets
are largely being driven by government agencies to
address housing needs.
- There is no modular market whatsoever in Hong Kong
now, so there are no preconceived notions about its
- Extremely high housing costs
- Low or limited construction labor availability
- Lack of understanding of modular construction from
code officials and policy makers
This article originally appeared in the Modular Advantage Magazine - Third Quarter 2018 released in September 2018.