When the State Council of China announced in September 2021 its new plan to expand the Qianhai Shenzhen-Hong Kong Modern Service Industry Co-operation Zone, the news took the whole Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) by storm, particularly among the professional service industry. Under the new policy, Hong Kong professionals will find it easier to practise in the mainland with their international experience and thus take China closer to the heart of global markets.
Hong Kong’s building industry is undoubtedly among the key industries driving Qianhai’s development. Its systematic way of managing construction projects has been introduced in Qianhai, touted the ‘Hong Kong Construction Model’. But what does this all mean to professional firms, individual architects and young people growing their career? How are they reacting to these new opportunities?
We spoke to LWK + PARTNERS Directors Lambert Ma and Benjamin Chan and Associate Director Bruce Wong, who have rich market experience in the GBA, on the upcoming opportunities and prospects of an expanded Qianhai, and their implications for the industry.
Urban upgrade and technological innovation
Established in Hong Kong, LWK + PARTNERS is an active participant in Qianhai’s development through major ongoing and completed projects. It is among the first practices to obtain practicing qualification in Qianhai, in addition to Grade-A design institute and Grade-A landscaping engineering design accreditations.
Lambert Ma, Director at LWK + PARTNERS, has joined the firm for over 10 years and oversees design management and execution for large-scale mixed-use projects. He is also deeply involved in business planning for its mother company C Cheng Holdings Limited. He sees the new plan as conducive to urban upgrade and technological innovation: “Qianhai’s expansion from its original 14.92 to 120.56 square kilometres in area is really quite extraordinary in its sheer scale. It further solidifies the central government’s commitment in making Qianhai an economic platform where Hong Kong enterprises and professional talents can thrive as originally intended. It also signifies the government’s heavy emphasis on the GBA and has given Hong Kong’s strategic development a great boost. Hong Kong professionals of various fields, such as in architecture, construction, engineering, town planning, legal, information technology and many more, can leverage and benefit from the expansion plan which will push up demands for high-quality professionals with international calibre.”
In terms of the practice’s development, he said: “This is all welcome news to us and allows us to further leverage our advantages and experiences with our offices in Hong Kong and Shenzhen to continue playing their anchor role in contributing to the next stage developments of the GBA. Our GBA Innovation Centre set up in 2018 serves as a strategic unit to provide focused technical innovations and professional know-how as a next level catalyst to generate opportunities working with various consultants and stakeholders in the region.”
Elevating Shenzhen-Hong Kong partnerships
Set in the west of Shenzhen, Qianhai acts as the GBA’s innovation and trial platform and has been a booster for the unified growth of Shenzhen and Hong Kong, integrating the competitive edges of both cities in terms of industry and institutional setup. For Benjamin Chan, LWK + PARTNERS Director from its Shenzhen studio, the professional standards of Hong Kong and Macau take priority in Qianhai, interacting with the GBA’s culture and business ecology to create a world-class service industry. Qianhai, he says, is setting a prime example for the GBA in attracting global firms, tech talent and financial institutions to settle, bringing diverse job opportunities.
Benjamin has witnessed first-hand how Shenzhen-Hong Kong partnerships flourish in recent years: “Our Shenzhen and Hong Kong teams work together and use our respective experience and strengths to create the best value and designs for our clients, tailoring our work to fit the needs of each project. It’s truly a strong multiplier partnership where 1 + 1 gives more than 2.”
He describes it as a complementary advantage: “Our Shenzhen office acts as a window for the mainland. It has the right technologies, solid market intelligence and close connection with clients, knowing exactly what they want and what projects need. On the other hand, globalised networks and talent are the strong suit of the Hong Kong team, who are able to bring in latest design and management approaches. Our teams at LWK + PARTNERS have been working together effectively across the border for many years. While Qianhai is going global, the standards of engineering and quality control will surely go up. LWK + PARTNERS can offer reliable support as we have always built our edge by intermixing Shenzhen and Hong Kong elements in the first place.”
Hong Kong Construction Model
As a pilot zone, Qianhai borrows Hong Kong’s well-established project management expertise and allows developments wholly owned by Hong Kong business or with a Hong Kong majority shareholding to adopt the Hong Kong Construction Model, including its management principles and procedures. In the future, the model can potentially be extended to other projects in Qianhai. Today, Hong Kong registered architects can practise in Qianhai after filing a record.
“Hong Kong’s construction technologies are of an international design standard,” noted Associate Director Bruce Wong, “We’ve completed top-notch architectural and infrastructural projects. As Qianhai aims for the global, we expect to see in the GBA more of Shenzhen’s advanced technological industries coupling with Hong Kong-standard construction.”
Regarding Qianhai’s prospects and its impact on Hong Kong companies, Lambert thinks the expansion plan highlights the need for professionals with global vision, which has a positive effect on city upgrades and technological innovation: “Hong Kong is full of professional talent across different fields and there’s no shortage of incentives in Qianhai.”
Digitalisation in architecture and low-carbon cities
LWK + PARTNERS is one of Hong Kong’s earlier adopters of building information modelling (BIM) and continues to push forward the vision of a fully digitalised building industry by integrating BIM, big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) as common tools throughout the whole life-cycle of buildings.
How is this experience applied to GBA projects and urban development? “Data is an increasingly valuable asset in the world’s economic system. In 2019, we worked with Beijing General Municipal Engineering Design & Research Institute Co., Ltd. (BMEDI) to set up C-Bay Smart Cities Limited, which develops digital databases for urban and infrastructure projects in the GBA. It aims to assist astute decision making by providing a smart visualisation platform that streamlines the process of digital project management and technical analysis,” said Bruce.
The GBA, he adds, plays a vital role in helping China hit emission peak and carbon neutrality: “The GBA is a world-class city cluster. It’s also among the top for construction density and economic vitality. Its carbon reduction strategies, therefore, have come under the spotlight and is an important topic of research and industry discussion. I hope that the outcomes of these, together with technological reforms, can effectively inform future development and management of GBA cities.”
Advice for young people thinking of heading to Qianhai?
Bruce Wong: “I would suggest young Hong Kong architects to grasp the opportunities offered by the GBA. Get deeply involved in all sorts of urban development, regional culture, academic exchange and urban technology conferences. Hong Kong architects will shine if we keep learning new technical skills and show everyone our professionalism and attitude.”
Benjamin Chan: “Innovative thinking, intelligent technologies and natural ecology are all focus areas for Qianhai. We’ll see more eco-city planning and impressive designs for industrial R&D centres and corporate headquarters. More attention will also be placed on building operations. We’ll see more diversity in Qianhai’s or even the country’s development. Designers of the next generation must think beyond existing frameworks to get creative for new ideas.”
Lambert Ma: “One must be willing and prepared to fully engage in the dynamics and mechanisms of the open platform afforded to Hong Kong’s professional service providers. There would be no competitive edge without a strong commitment by Hong Kong enterprises and professionals to establish strong physical presence on the ground with relevant local set up and support. Only by being an active participant and fully integrated in Qianhai’s ecology can Hong Kong professionals’ competitiveness be fully realised.”
Qianhai is more than just a special co-operation zone. It symbolises endless possibilities for innovation and trial, and a vision for smart low-carbon cities. Moving forward, LWK + PARTNERS will continue to work across disciplines to forger stronger connections between the GBA and the world.