The road ahead - Façade and curtain wall works industry in HK

The construction industry has been a major driver of Hong Kong’s economic growth. Curtain wall refers to the external surface of a building. Glass, aluminium plate and various types of stone are common materials for curtain wall. Podium façade refers to the external surface of the podium or atriumportion of a building, which is typically made up of a combination of differentmaterials, such as glass, granite and other cladding materials. In a typical new building project, podium façade and curtain wall works is considered part of the building construction works. Over the past decade, podium façade and curtain wall works have grown from a niche market to a distinct sub-sector of the construction industry.

The podium façade and curtain wall works industry is mature and dominated by major players in the industry. The podium façade and curtain wall works have developed since the last 30 years. Previously, this area of specialization was conducted by only a narrow group of individuals and the majority of facade work was undertaken by the general architects of a project.

Due to the increasing number of building projects and the rising fee of curtain wall works, the revenue of the podium façade and curtain wall works industry increased from approximately HK$4,250.9 million in 2011 to approximately HK$5,101.1 million in 2015, at a CAGR of approximately 4.7%.  Furthermore, based on research and analysis from Ipsos Business Consulting, the revenue of the podium façade and curtain wall works industry is expected to continue its rising trend from approximately HK$5,254.1 million in 2016 to approximately HK$6,265 million in 2020, at a CAGR of approximately 4.5%.

Industry opportunities

The Hong Kong Government has identified “Ten Mega Infrastructure Projects” to improve Hong Kong’s infrastructure. The government is currently conducting studies as part of the development in Hung Shui Kiu, to develop the area to increase housing supply. Apart from domestic buildings, the development plan also includes the development of a commercial centre in the area with office buildings, shopping malls and a technology park, along with the government development plans such as MTR extension lines, North East New Territories New Development Areas and Kai Tak development. These buildings could require the adoption of podium façade and curtain wall works.

The Hong Kong Green Building Council (HKGBC) has started a rating system known as BEAM Plus. This system aims to assess the sustainability performance of buildings. BEAM Plus is open for registration of new buildings, existing buildings, interiors and neighborhoods. Projects applying for BEAM Plus certification will be assessed on different criteria, including Material Aspects, Energy Use, Water Use, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovations and Additions. The growing trend for green building materials is likely to be the growth driver for the development of Podium Façade and curtain works industry in Hong Kong due to the increasing demand for refurbishments, additions and alterations to existing buildings to improve the energy efficiency and sustainability.  It is expected that the demand for environmentally friendly curtain wall materials will increase in the future. 

For the projects pursuing BEAM Plus certification, contractors performing podium façade and curtain wall works are required to consider the sustainability of the building in terms of the design and use of materials. Special glass fabricated for energy saving purpose is one of the examples being adopted in the industry in order to pursue the certification. The podium façade and curtain wall works industry can benefit from charging higher project fees to customers since materials that serve environmental protection purposes could cost more than the materials previously used. 

Challenges faced by the industry

The podium façade and curtain wall works contractors have been facing increasing costs. The increase in operating costs is attributed to the increasing wage trend of construction workers. The increase in labor costs has consistently raised the total operating costs of the curtain wall industry, and impacted the profit margin for the projects.

The Buildings Department (BD) of Hong Kong released a revised version of PNAP APP-2. Under the new regulation, in order to be measured in GFA, the projection of a curtain wall system from the outer face to the structural elements has decreased from less than 300mm (without specifying types of building) to less than 200mm for domestic buildings and 250mm for non-domestic buildings. Before the regulation was changed, lightweight curtain wall could be applied to domestic buildings in order to increase the accountable GFA. Since the regulation change, the installation of lightweight curtain wall to residential buildings will not impact the GFA.

There are also other materials which may be adopted to substitute curtain wall systems. With the possibility of substitution of curtain wall systems by other wall systems and materials, there is a threat that the demand for podium façade and curtain wall works could potentially decrease.

As for the consideration of improving energy efficiency of residential buildings, the BD regulates the light transmittance and light reflectance of the glass forming part of the building envelope, including curtain wall, window and door of the residential buildings. As stated in PNAP APP-156 (Design and Construction Requirements for Energy Efficiency of Residential Buildings), the visible light transmittance (VLTGlass) of the glass forming part should not be less than 50% and the external reflectance (ERGlass) should not be more than 20%. The same regulation applies to commercial buildings. Regulation updated by the BD could potentially lead to the decrease in adoption of curtain wall systems in residential buildings, thus decreasing the demand for curtain wall works. 

Road Ahead

The podium façade and curtain wall market is driven by architects who produce designs which demand material adoption to increase energy efficiency. It is expected that there will be an increasing demand for high performance energy efficient systems that use specially fabricated glass in order to minimize solar energy gain while allowing maximum visible light transmission. Energy efficiency is becoming increasingly important to property developers as a way to reduce building operating costs.

The podium façade and curtain wall works industry is likely to continue its growth in the coming years as the existing projects will continue to provide momentum to the industry, such as the “Energising Kowloon East” and the establishment of MTR extension lines. Additionally, potential new projects such as the Kowloon West Cultural District may also bring more business opportunities to the industry. Growth could also be driven by the increase of land supply for public and private residential buildings under the development plan for North East New Territories New Development Areas and the conversion of government properties into commercial use. The continuous development of the New Territories is likely to bring business opportunities to the podium façade and curtain wall works industry in Hong Kong. 

The capability to provide one-stop design and build solutions is becoming progressively important, ranging from system design, shop drawings, structural calculations, building materials procurement and project management, allowing podium facade and curtain wall works contractor to obtain more business opportunities. 

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