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Shielding against natural disasters

Hong Kong might be in the fortunate position of not being in a major earthquake zone, but there are still other considerations the construction industry needs to take into account when building in the city. For example, over the years, Hong Kong has a long history of landslide disasters and flooding similar to the disaster of Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines a month ago.

Prior to building standards and regulations introduced over the past 50 years, damage caused by typhoons and landslides claimed many lives. These days, to keep Hong Kong citizens safe, all structures have to comply with Buildings Department regulations in areas such as wind load, drainage requirements and facade design.

Keith Griffiths, chairman, of architectural and design firm Aedas International, says although Hong Kong is lucky to be rarely tested by severe natural disasters, people live and work in a high-density environment where fire and flood hazards can cause casualties.

With a large percentage of the world's tallest office buildings located in the city, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) department of civil and environmental engineers regularly carry out research in the areas of wind engineering, structural optimisation, advanced design technologies and sustainable green design for tall buildings.

"Weather and other threats are always important considerations when designing a building," says Griffiths.

Aware that different regions face different threats, Griffiths says Aedas insists on including local staff in every project design team. "They have the best knowledge of what weather conditions and possible hazards the developments may need to stand against," he says, adding that local knowledge is shared on the Aedas global knowledge and design platform.

As the trend in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia shifts towards taller, slender, more flexible buildings, the construction industry faces new challenges, including structural safety, the effects of wind, occupant comfort, fire safety and security. As the city becomes a hub for data centres, several of these facilities have been constructed to be bomb-proof to protect against the threat of attacks from terrorists. Unsurprisingly, real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield ranks Hong Kong the safest Asian location for data centres.