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Taking the green road

Published on Thursday, 09 Jan 2014
Hysan Place is one of HK’s greenest buildings.
Photo: Martin Chan

Environmentally friendly students have more options than ever before

Protecting and conserving the environment are major challenges that face many business sectors. Rising demand for professionals in the “green” arena has, in turn, given rise to various related educational programmes. Green programmes related to architecture, for example, are getting more popular among professionals in the construction industry, as society increasingly demands that infrastructure has less of an impact on the environment.

Dr Chau Chi-kwan, programme leader of the MSc in High Performance Buildings at Polytechnic University (PolyU), says that the public now expects buildings to be environmental friendly. “With such expectations, the university introduced the [MSc] programme in 2013. Most of our students own a first degree in architecture or civil engineering. The programme is an enhancement for them to upgrade their knowledge,” he says.

Programme graduates will have learned all about the issues surrounding the efficiency and sustainability of a building, and be able to provide suggestions on how to reduce its impact on the environment. “Our graduates are not involved in the design of the building; rather, they would conduct assessments on existing buildings and provide solutions to make buildings more environmental friendly, such as by reducing energy consumption. Going green is a global trend and I think the demand for our graduates will continue to grow,” Chau says.

Valeria Alvarado, who is currently studying the programme, thinks that sustainable development is crucial to the development of the world. “As a global citizen, I am well aware of how human actions have damaged the environment. This is why I chose to leave my home country, Mexico, to come to Hong Kong to learn more about how to develop a city in a sustainable manner,” she says.

After finishing her first semester in December, Alvarado was impressed by the practical approach that the programme took in educating students. “We do not just read from books. We get to see successful cases of how green solutions are applied in buildings from around the world and we try to apply those solutions to buildings in Hong Kong,” she says.

Alvarado says that she hopes to work in Hong Kong after graduation, because it is an international city featuring many examples of advanced infrastructure. “The knowledge I have gained here is very useful. Hopefully, I will help able to help build a greener society for my home country in the future,” she says.

PolyU also offers an MSc in Sustainable Urban Development, which trains students in building greener urban spaces. Professor Yang Hongxing, who leads the programme, says that as the mainland continues to urbanise, there is strong demand for higher education on sustainable urban development.

“The programme is inter-disciplinary. It combines knowledge in energy conservation, environmental science, town planning and architecture to give students an overview on how to develop cities in a sustainable manner,” he says.

Students of the programme come from both Hong Kong and the mainland. “For local students who are mostly studying part time, the programme provides them with a chance to enhance their knowledge and prepare them for bigger roles in the future. Most of our local students are employed at property developers or contractors. For mainland students, most of them are fresh graduates. They want to brush up their résumés with a master’s degree,” Yang says.

Anna Wang Yueqi, a graduate of the programme, is currently working in the design department at Kaiser Group Holdings, a mainland-based developer. “I love architecture, but was not able to major in it at university, so after finishing my undergraduate [degree] in graphic design I decided to come to Hong Kong to further my studies in architecture,” she says.

Wang was impressed with the in-depth training provided by the programme, especially in areas such as air quality. “Pollution is certainly a big concern when it comes to development. The programme provided insights on how to minimise the impact on the environment and people when planning a new development project,” she says.

Although Wang is a full-time student, she said that she learned a lot from her part-time classmates. “I think we have a good mix of students. My classmates come from diverse backgrounds – some of them do design, some are in charge of managing facilities. They provided me with insights from various points of view when looking into an urban development problem. It was a fruitful learning experience listening to them during group discussions,” she says.

Meanwhile, the College of Science and Engineering at City University (CityU) aims to launch a new programme – MSc in Urban Design and Regional Planning – later this year.

Professor Richard Yuen Kwok-kit, assistant head and professor of CityU’s Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, says that the course is the first postgraduate course in Hong Kong that combines urban planning and design.

“From a macro perspective, it analyses how political, economical, cultural and environmental factors and policies affect the overall development and planning of a city. The course also examines, from a micro perspective, how the architecture and design characteristics of buildings help create a balance between urban planning and community development. The programme also includes other subjects, such as technology application, history, culture, law and reasoning, to broaden students’ knowledge,” he says.

Dr Kim Young-chul, assistant professor of CityU’s Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering, says that in order to reinforce training on practical skills, the university encourages students to work in engineering, urban planning or real estate development companies. This is so that they can apply what they have learned through the various programmes and gain practical experience to maximise their competitive edge.

The MSc programme has applied for recognition from a number of professional associations and societies. These include the Hong Kong Institute of Planners, the Hong Kong Institute of Urban Design, the Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors (Planning and Development Division) and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

“Graduates will have plenty of different opportunities in Hong Kong, mainland China and overseas,” Kim says. “Apart from working in government departments, they can also join construction companies or urban design consultancy firms. Hong Kong is not the only place that needs urban planning and design professionals. With the rapid development of cities in mainland China, professionals in this field are in high demand and opportunities are everywhere.”

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