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Surveying and Built Environment Vol 17(2), 37-48 December 2006 ISSN 1816-9554

A Review of Buildability Performance


in Hong Kong and Strategies for
Improvement
FWH Wong1, PTI Lam1, APC Chan1, and EHW Chan1

ABSTRACT
Whilst the Construction Industry Review Committee (CIRC) report highlights the room for improving
design buildability in Hong Kong, very few studies have been conducted to examine the issues in the
local context. This paper, therefore, aims to expound the current state of buildability performance in
Hong Kong, and recommends strategies for needed improvements. Various indicators, including
construction cost, output statistics, and the degree of involvement of construction experts in design
development, have been examined. The analysis has been supplemented and confirmed through
the interview of practitioners whose views echoed the CIRCs findings that little emphasis is placed on
buildability during design development. To reduce the waste of resources and the constraints due to
comparatively low productivity, measures to uplift the standards of design buildability are necessary.
To this end, the increased use of prefabrication and the benchmarking of building designs using a
Buildability Assessment Model (BAM) are proposed. The deliberations in the formulation of the BAM
have built the solid ground works for developing improvement measures to uplift the overall buildability
of building designs in Hong Kong, in addition to fostering a sustainable built environment.

KEYWORDS
Design
Productivity
Buildability Assessment Model
1

Department of Building and Real Estate, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Email: f.wong@polyu.edu.hk

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A Review of Buildability Performance in Hong Kong and Strategies for Improvement

INTRODUCTION
The construction industry in Hong Kong has long
made major contribution to its GDP, which,
through the multiplier effect, has provided
extensive job opportunities for the local workforce
(Chiang, et al, 2004). On one hand, the industry
has enjoyed a good reputation in the rapid
construction of high-rise buildings and the use of
specialised construction techniques (TDC, 2004).
On the other hand, its image has been tarnished
by unsafe site practices and the lack of drive in
enhancing long-term competitiveness. The
problematic industr y structure, which
encompasses exploitative multi-layered
subcontracting and a fragmented production
process, has failed to catch up with surging social
expectations (HKHA, 2000; CIRC, 2001).
These have culminated in knotty problems
including, inter alia, higher construction costs over
other developed countries (HKHA, 2000; WB,
2000).
Against this background, the then-Chief Executive
of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
appointed the Construction Industry Review
Committee (CIRC) to examine the current state
of the construction industry and suggest actions
and strategies for improvement. The CIRC (2001)
then put for ward measures to enhance
construction efficiency and productivity, and were
aimed at realising the vision of an integrated
construction industry that is capable of continuous
strides towards excellence in a market-driven
environment. In particular, the report highlighted
that little emphasis has been placed on
buildability, and pointed out that considerations
of buildability at the start of project designs would
lead to the wider adoption of cost-saving and
labour-saving construction technologies, as well
as a minimisation of material waste.
In Hong Kong, where most construction sites are
congested with restrictive surroundings in busy
urban areas, buildability becomes critical in
ensuring smooth project delivery. Construction
programmes are usually tight due to high land

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costs. Construction difficulties and non-productive


reworks result in delays and cost overruns. In
order to uplift overall project performance,
imminent improvement measures are needed,
both at the project level and the industry level.
This paper therefore aims to enable an
understanding of the current state of buildability
performance in Hong Kong, and recommends
strategies to bring about the necessar y
improvements. The authors hope that the paper
can arouse attention to be paid to this important
area and hopefully pave the way for the build
up of a solid foundation for enhancing the
productivity performance of the construction
industry, resulting in value for the money and a
more sustainable built environment.

THE CONCEPT OF
BUILDABILITY
Despite the emergence of many interpretations
of buildability (Griffith, 1987; Ferguson,
1989; McGeorge, et al, 1992; SAB, 1993;
Low and Abeyegoonasekera, 2001; BCA,
2005a), the definition that was developed by
the UK pioneer proponent of buildability, the
Construction Industry Research and Information
Association (CIRIA) (1983), is by far the most
succinct, and hence, frequently, publicised one.
According to this definition, buildability
represents the extent to which the design of a
building facilitates ease of construction, subject
to the overall requirements for the completed
building . As one of the technical design
requirements, buildability can be translated into
practical terms as a factor that facilitates the
ease of construction through a visualisation of
building designs and re-moulding them, if
necessary, before construction starts. A similar
concept of constructability evolved in Australia
and the US, and it deals with both design and
management functions. The significance of
accessibility considerations at the early project
stages of Conceptual Planning and Design on
the construction process is also substantiated
(CII Australia, 1996b).

Surveying and Built Environment Vol 17(2), 37-48 December 2006 ISSN 1816-9554

CURRENT STATE OF
BUILDABILITY PERFORMANCE
Buildability is such an abstract concept that it
makes direct measurements difficult. However,
by understanding the current state of building
performance related to buildability, we can draw
some inferences from some indicators, as follows.
Construction productivity

As mentioned, buildability can be known as the


extent to which a building design can facilitate the
efficient use of construction resources and enhance
the ease and safety of construction on site whilst
the clients requirements are met. Thus, construction
productivity, which is a measure of efficiency and
effectiveness of a contractors resources employed
to produce a finished facility per unit of time (Chau
and Walker, 1988; Oglesby, 1989), can be
affected by the buildability performance of designs.
In fact, low productivity has been attributed to the
insufficient attention being paid to buildable design
(CIDB, 1992).
It is noted that the Hong Kong construction industry
has experienced a slow growth of productivity
(Walker and Chau, 1999). From 1994 to 1998,
a declining trend of the total factor productivity of
the industry was recorded (Walker and Chau,
1999). One of the adverse effects of declining
productivity was manifested in an increase in the
building costs of the industry, which was amongst
the highest in developed countries (HA, 2000). In
a report comparing the construction cost in Hong
Kong to those in other countries (WB, 2000), the
labour cost input of a typical building project in
Hong Kong was found to be higher compared to
that of Singapore, whilst the measure of productivity
in terms of output per site worker in the US is higher
than that in Hong Kong.
Involvement of construction experts in
design development

Conservative has been the adjective used for

years to describe the local construction


industry, where the majority of construction
projects have been adopting the traditional
procurement system (Tam, 1992; Chan,
1996; Rowlinson, 1997; Wong and Yau,
1999; Chan and Yung, 2000; Chan, et al,
2001). Under the traditional method, the
property owner employs a consultant on his
behalf to design and supervise the works
according to the design. Contractors do not
have any involvement in developing the design
on which they base their work. This practice
has been one of the major hurdles hindering
the improvement of buildability (Griffith, 1989;
OConnor and Miller, 1994; Uhlik and Lores,
1998; Ma, et al, 2001; and Wong, et al,
2004). On the other hand, comparatively few
projects adopt non-traditional procurement
methods, such as management contracting or
construction management, to which a
contractor can contribute its construction
expertise (Tam, 1992; Chan, et al, 2001).
The predominant usage of the traditional
procurement system may be attributable to the
culture and inertia under which the industry
used to operate. For example, contractors are
sceptical of tendering for Design and Build
projects because of their inherently higher risk
and liability, as well as the fear of losing
design cost if the contract is not awarded to
them (Lam, 2005).
Numerous studies have reported on the
improvement of buildability that can be
achieved through the early involvement of
construction experts in the design development
stage to iron out any foreseeable problems
during construction (Denman, 2001; Low,
2001; Arditi, et al, 2002; Fox, et al, 2002;
Lam, 2002; Ballal and Sher, 2003; Yang, et
al, 2003; Ugwu, et al, 2004; Zin, et al,
2004). The fact that the majority of projects in
Hong Kong still use the traditional procurement
system means that contractors are seldom
engaged during the design stage, resulting in
sluggish advancement in the pursuit of better
design buildability.

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A Review of Buildability Performance in Hong Kong and Strategies for Improvement

Buildability problems as perceived by


practitioners

In a series of interviews with seven senior


construction practitioners in Hong Kong, the
widespread problems of buildability were found
to stem from a number of sources (Wong, et al,
2004). At the project level, these problems were
due to designers lack of knowledge and
experience in construction; designing without
input or the involvement of contractors; projects
with increasingly demanding coordination
requirements (such as sophisticated building
services and building automation systems); an
ignorance of contractors proposed changes, a
lack of communication between the parties
involved, etc. Added to these, the additional
time taken for a plan to be approved by the
government means that consultants would be
reluctant to change their basic designs for better
buildability at the contractors advice. They would
reason that resolving buildability problems should
be part of a contractors responsibilities.
Contractors, on the other side of the fence, would
evade this responsibility by saying that they could
do very little if they are not given the right designs
to work on, especially when the incentive for
saving on time and costs is minimal after the
contract is awarded. The tight timeframe for
designing and tendering has also resulted in
designers and tenderers not having enough time
to prepare careful designs and pricing,
respectively. The highly fragmented roles and
specialisation of various consultants in a project
team further complicate the responsibility for
effecting buildability improvements.

THE NEED FOR IMPROVING


BUILDABILITY
The above findings are consistent with those of
the CIRC Report (2001), which spotlighted the
lack of consideration on buildability performance
in the Hong Kong construction industry. Given
that a low level of technological competency
has already restrained local contracting

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companies from undertaking large and


technologically savvy projects (Chiang, et al,
2004), the poor buildability of design would
further embroil them in spending additional time
and costs to work out solutions for construction
problems, such as clashes and fixing difficulties.
Owing to such inefficient and wasteful processes,
the competitiveness of the industry would be
hampered as a matter of course. As such,
measures to uplift the standards of design
buildability in Hong Kong are imminently
needed.
Potential benefits of improved buildability are
multi-faceted. Numerous studies across the world
have pointed to the tangible benefits of time,
cost, quality, and safety, as well as intangible
benefits brought about by improved buildability
(Table 1). Apart from these potential gains,
buildable designs can also bring about
increased productivity in Hong Kong (Chan,
1999). To this end, as building designs have
significant effects on downstream activities (CII,
1986; CIDB, 1992; CIRC, 2001; Fox, et al,
2002), design professionals should no longer
indulge themselves in aesthetic excellence (Smith,
1999), but take a lead to enhancing buildability.
For example, careful buildability considerations
of material usage and the construction process
at the design stage (Poon, 1997, 2002; Poon,
et al, 2004) would help ease the ill-famed
practice of generating considerable amounts of
construction and demolition waste (Cheung, et
al, 1993; Poon, 1997; HA, 2000; CIRC,
2001; EPD, 2004).

MEASURES FOR IMPROVING


BUILDABILITY
Past experience has brought to light the difficulties
encountered in the course of enhancing
buildability. These difficulties include the lack of
construction experience on the part of designers;
late requests for construction input; a reluctance
to invest additional money and effort during the
early project stages; a lack of mutual respect

Surveying and Built Environment Vol 17(2), 37-48 December 2006 ISSN 1816-9554

amongst designers and constructors (OConnor


and Miller, 1994); ignorance of the buildability
concept (Uhlik and Lores, 1998); a lack of
qualified practitioners to carry out the necessary
improvements (Ma, et al, 2001); and the
fragmented nature of the construction industry
(Wong, et al, 2004). Despite these difficulties,
the CIRC (2001) report stated the undesirability
of introducing statutory controls as a measure to
improve buildability. As such, alternative measures
that suit the local situation have to be found.
Use of prefabricated and standardised
components

The use of prefabricated parts coupled with


standardised and modular components has been
increasingly practiced in Hong Kong to enhancing
buildability (Chiang, et al, 2004). By shifting the
production process from sites to factories,
prefabrication reduces wet trades and the use of
unskilled labour on site, thus ensuring more efficient
and economic use of contractors resources. The
detailed planning and design of precast
components also discipline design professionals
to consider buildability at the early stages. As for
standardisation, it contributes to good buildability
by reducing the number of mould changes both
on site and in factories, hence improving
productivity (Griffith and Sidwell 1995; CII
Australia, 1996a; BCA, 2005a; Low and
Abeyegoonasekera 2001; Nima, et al, 1999;
Egan, 1998). In view of these benefits, the Housing
Department has taken the lead in introducing
prefabrication and standardisation for its mass
construction of public housing (Wong and Yau,
1999; Chiang, et al, 2004). In the private sector,
the government has recently provided incentives
to encourage the use of prefabricated components
by exempting the wall thickness from plot-ratio
calculations (Buildings Department, 2001).
Assessment of designs for buildability

Whilst the industry continues to explore ways to


enhance buildability, such as the use of
prefabricated, standardised, and modular

components, as well as the adoption of


alternative procurement methods (CIRC, 2001;
Chiang, et al, 2004), a Buildability Assessment
Model (BAM) for quantifying the buildability of
designs is being developed (Wong, et al,
2003). The researchers of the BAM were
inspired by the Buildable Design Appraisal
System (BDAS) in Singapore, which quantifies
the buildability of designs based on three
principles: Standardisation, Simplicity, and the
Single Integrated Element (BCA, 2005a; Lam,
2000). Following the successful experience of
BDAS in Singapore (Poh and Chen 1998; Low
2001; Lam 2002), the BAM is designed for
use in Hong Kong as a scoring system taking
into account various factors that are specifically
applicable to construction in Hong Kong. For
example, construction sites are commonly
restricted by surrounding buildings. In addition,
considerations for mechanical and electrical
systems have been incorporated into the Hong
Kong BAM system, which should render it more
comprehensive in coverage than its Singapore
predecessor. Figure 1 is a schematic of the BAM,
as it is being conceived, in the developmental
process. An overall Buildability Score (BS) for a
building design will be calculated based on the
construction systems and finishing systems used,
as well as building features, building services
aspects, and site specific factors. The required
information for the assessment was extracted from
design documents, such as drawings and
specifications. In calculating the overall BS, a
set of buildability indices for different components
of a design was used for the assessment. These
indices were developed from a number of surveys
with local practitioners.
The overall BS is the summation of component
scores for the five aspects in a building design.
The buildability component scores for construction
systems and finishing systems were calculated
based on the multiplication of respective
proportional volume or area coverage and the
related buildability indices. In addition, the
design is assessed against checklists of design
features enhancing buildability, building services

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A Review of Buildability Performance in Hong Kong and Strategies for Improvement

design features enhancing buildability, and sitespecific factors reflecting design considerations
with an aim of adapting to site conditions. A
bonus score is given for innovative ideas that
have not been covered by the Model.
The assessment is based only on design
documents instead of on other process variables
or subjective judgements, though process
considerations did form part of the initial survey
on the relative importance of a comprehensive
list of buildability attributes. The criteria for
assessment were also self-explanatory and
unambiguous for users. Therefore, the BAM is
objective and manageable for design
professionals who can self-check the buildability
status of their designs. In the long run, the BAM
can be used to benchmark the buildability
performance of different building designs, which
can eventually help design professionals develop
more buildable designs when suitable incentives
or punitive measures are introduced. In this
connection, it is worth pointing out that Singapore
initially promoted their BDAS with an incentive
approach, but in an attempt to bring forth the
buildability concept to critical mass, buildability
legislation was enacted to the effect of enforcing
minimum Buildable Scores before building plan
approval (Lam, 2002). This measure has borne
fruit in the form of productivity gains in recent
years (BCA, 2005b, 2005c).

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the buildability performance of their consultants


designs, thereby gaining a picture of the possible
effects on construction time, cost and quality. With
increasing awareness of the need to improve
buildability, overall project performance can be
enhanced, leading to an increase in productivity,
the maximisation of resources usage, and the
provision of safe workplaces.

RECOMMENDATION FOR
FURTHER STUDIES
Upon its completion, the prototype BAM will be
validated by using it to score completed projects
with known buildability performance. Building
projects from the public and private sectors
currently being built or completed have been
targeted for an extensive case study. Before long,
it is hoped that a data bank of buildability scores
for different types of building projects in Hong
Kong can be established for benchmarking
purposes.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The work described in this paper was fully
supported by a grant from the Research Grants
Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative
Region, Peoples Republic of China (RGC Project
No. PolyU5155/04E).

CONCLUSION

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designs, will bring about gradual improvements
through a self-perfecting process within the building
design profession in Hong Kong. By using the
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Surveying and Built Environment Vol 17(2), 37-48 December 2006 ISSN 1816-9554

Table 1: Benefits associated with improved buildability


Reaped benefits of improved buildability

References

Time

Early completion of projects

Francis, et al (1999), Low and


Abeyegoonasekera (2001), and
Elgohary, et al (2003)

Cost

Saved project costs / achieved cost effectiveness


for the project / Reduced extra cost of change
orders / Reduced cost of construction bids

Francis, et al (1999), Jergeas and Put


(2001), Low and Abeyegoonasekera (2001),
Elgohary, et al (2003), and Trigunarsyah
(2004a, 2004b)

Quality

Improved quality performance of projects

Francis, et al (1999), Low (2001), Low and


Abeyegoonasekera (2001), Elgohary, et al
(2003), and Trigunarsyah (2004c)

Safety

Improved safety performance of projects

Francis, et al (1999), Low and


Abeyegoonasekera (2001), and
Trigunarsyah (2004c)

Others

Higher productivity levels / Reducing the risks


of unforeseen problems / Improved industrial
relations / Better teamwork / Improved
communication / Enhanced client and customer
satisfaction / Better resource utilization and
overhead savings / Reduced project risks /
Better working relationships

Eldin (1999), Francis, et al (1999),


Low (2001), Elgohary, et al (2003), and
Trigunarsyah (2004b)

SBE
47

A Review of Buildability Performance in Hong Kong and Strategies for Improvement

Figure 1: Schematic of the Buildability Assessment Model


Buildability refers to the extent to which a design facilitates the efficient use of construction resources and enhances
the ease and safety of construction on site, whilst meeting the clients requirements. The captioned model will be
used to assess the buildability of a given building design by quantifying the following elements, each carrying their
respective buildability index:

(1) Construction systems adopted for constructing a building carcass


The buildability score for construction systems is calculated based on: (i) the proportional area or volume
coverage, and (ii) the buildability indices for various construction systems, such that:
Proportional volume using particular structural
construction system

+
+
+
+

Coefficient A
Coefficient B
Coefficient C
Coefficient D
Coefficient E

x
x
x
x
x

(Vs
(A1
(Ae
(Ar
(Ai

Buildability index for the particular


structure construction system
x
x
x
x
x

BIs)
BI1)
BIe)
BIr)
BIi)

(the structure)
(the slabs)
(the building envelopes)
(the roof)
(the internal walls)

= Buildability score for construction systems


(2) Finishing systems adopted for different locations of a building
Similarly, the buildability score for finishing systems is calculated based on: (i) the proportional area
coverage, and (ii) the buildability indices for various finishing systems.
(3) Other buildability features
Design is assessed against a list of design features enhancing buildability. Examples include the use of
standardized and prefabricated elements, and designing components that are easy to assemble on site.
(4) Aspects of building service design
Design is assessed against a list of building service design features that enhance buildability. Examples
include adequate headroom for ducting and clear details of supports to equipment.
(5) Site-specific factors
Design is assessed against a list of site-specific factors reflecting design considerations in adapting to site
conditions. For example, designs allowing for the movement of a plant with an adequate turning radius and
working space that is adequate for safe construction.
A buildability score will be calculated for each of the above five aspects.
The Total Buildability Score of a project is the sum of these buildability scores, together with a bonus
score for innovative ideas that have not been covered by the Model.

SBE
48