Hong Kong Is Turning Caverns Into Real Estate

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Hong Kong, to put it merely, is operating out of room. Greater than 7 million individuals stay within the 427 sq. mile autonomous area of the Folks’s Republic of China. Nation parks take up 41 p.c of the land mass, all of which is dotted by steep hills, making it tough to construct anyplace. Many excessive rises have maxed out on top restrictions. In the meantime, housing costs hit document highs this spring: Hong Kongers are paying practically $1,500 per sq. foot. The typical dwelling prices $1.eight million.

The federal government’s wanting into rezoning and constructing in rural areas, nevertheless it’s additionally in the hunt for a long-term technique to create extra actual property. What to do? Effectively, in keeping with the geotechnical engineers within the Hong Kong Particular Administrative Area’s Civil Engineering and Growth Division, the reply is down. Like, underneath the bottom, in newly constructed caverns.

“All of the city flat land in Hong Kong is already a built-up space,” says Tony Ho, the division’s geoengineering head. For the reason that early 1980s, the Hong Kong authorities has explored the thought of constructing caverns, straight into hilly areas too, nicely, hilly to develop. In 2011, the federal government accomplished a complete feasibly examine, pinpointing 48 potential caverns for long-term growth, ranging in measurement from zero.1 to zero.eight sq. miles. Six extra research to push the undertaking alongside are already underway.

This month, the undertaking walked away from the annual Worldwide Tunneling Affiliation’s awards banquet—in homosexual Paris!—with the award for Revolutionary Underground House Idea of the Yr. (It beat out an Israeli plan to make use of tunnels to create an underground cemetery and a Turkish transportation megaproject.)

No, the plan is to not make individuals stay like bats in these cool, darkish areas. As an alternative, the newly created actual property might host sewage and water therapy crops, information facilities, reservoirs, and storage amenities. The federal government is contemplating different (decrease precedence) choices, too: archives, oil, fuel, or wine storage, bicycle and automobile parking, laboratories, and sports activities amenities. The caverns might maintain mausoleums, mortuaries, incinerators, crematoriums, and, to spherical out the dying theme, slaughterhouses.

“What we’re pondering is, if we are able to greatest use the underground area assets, we are able to flip the constraint into a chance,” says Ho.

Utilizing tunnels to create additional area is much from a brand new concept. The town’s engineers cite inspirations in Norway (the underground Gjøvik Olympic Cavern Corridor, in-built 1975 however up to date in 1995, can host 5,500 individuals in its pool and ice hockey facility); Singapore (it completed its Underground Ammunition Facility in 2008); and good ol’ Kansas, USA (entrepreneurs there remodeled a limestone quarry into an underground industrial park used for cloud computing storage, packaging manufacture, and sorting mail.) Hong Kong itself already has some rock cavern amenities, together with a 424,000 cubic foot salt water reservoir for Hong Kong College, a sewage therapy works accomplished in 1995, and an explosives depot. A waste switch facility refurbished in 2013 marks town’s greatest rock cavern undertaking to this point.

However the work occurring now’s grander in scale. It is a scheme to completely reorganize public area within the area. “Once we attempt to relocate amenities underground, that permits a chance to replan an entire space,” says Edward Lo, chief city planner with the Hong Kong Planning Division. Shifting features like parking and information storage underneath the earth implies that land can be utilized for housing or companies, and hopefully ease costs.

Huge plans don’t come low cost. The Hong Kong authorities estimates rock cavern excavation alone can vary from $190 to $250 per cubic foot; complete value of building is perhaps $320 to $450 per cubic foot. One very small, 12-car parking storage might value $7.three million to assemble.

The excellent news is that each one that fee comes up entrance. “The factor about tunnels, which is their best benefit: The whole lifecycle value of those constructions is admittedly favorable for people who find themselves pondering long-term,” says Thom Neff, a civil engineer who has constructed tunnels all through his profession and now runs the consulting firm OckhamKonsult. “When you construct this construction in rock, there’s nothing to do. It’s simply there, eternally. Whereas another construction you construct, it’s a must to keep it.”

If Hong Kong is keen to shell out all the cash—and it’s already earmarked a whole bunch of tens of millions for the undertaking—it ought to get some good, hardy infrastructure for its buck. The timeline, although, remains to be very hazy. One sewage and therapy facility has made it by means of the design part, with building set to start in 2018 or early 2019. The opposite potential cavern tasks are nonetheless being studied. In the event that they’re authorized, they’ll undergo detailed designs after which building. That is possible a decade-long course of, says Mark Wallace of the engineering agency Arup, which is working with Hong Kong on the undertaking.

So, a phrase of recommendation to Hong Kongers dreaming of being interred within the depths of a rock cavern: maintain on a couple of extra years. And should you’re a cow, keep away from the cave.


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