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More than just a pipe dream
Chris Davis
update on Saturday, November 26, 2011
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Examples of ground-breaking construction and engineering are hardly new in Hong Kong, but converting part of the former Kai Tak runway into a state-of-the art cruise terminal has again required contractors to resort to unique design-and-build construction solutions.

When complete, the terminal and facilities at Kai Tak will provide Hong Kong with another iconic landmark, says Nicolas Borit, managing director of Dragages Hong Kong. The company was awarded the government design and build contract to construct the Kai Tak cruise terminal building, part of a multibillion-dollar public project to strengthen the city's position as a major cruise hub in the region.

Borit says the Norman Foster-designed three-storey, column-free building - 65 metres wide and over 800 metres long - will exemplify the "form follows function" principle, offering open space and flexibility.

"Think of the cruise terminal building as being similar to a multideck bridge with open areas," says Borit. "With attention to detail being critical - as much of the structure will be exposed - the project did create a few technical puzzles," he adds.

Borit says that as a firm used to overcoming non-typical construction challenges, Dragages formed a team from its local and international staff to provide solutions, such as an innovative approach to suspending the stairs and escalators.

"One of our strengths is the ability to bring together expertise provided by people who have been with us for some time with the younger generation of construction professionals" says Borit, adding that another core strength is to equip employees with double competency skills in civil and building techniques.

Dragages' rationale provides the company with flexibility and gives staff job security.

"Whenever the project market goes through civil or building phases, we have the professionals in place to provide the solutions," says Borit.

He says graduate construction engineers who join the firm spend the first four to five years rotating between projects.

"Our programme to train young professionals provides Dragages with a talent pipeline, but in the wider community raises the level of civil and building expertise in Hong Kong," says Borit.

Looking ahead, he sees the government's extensive infrastructure projects - which include bridges, rail and road networks and hospitals - providing bright prospects for the civil engineering and building sectors.

"The work in the pipeline exceeds the number of university graduates joining the industry... We have female supervisors and project managers working on our construction sites, including our tunnelling projects... They do a very professional job and we would welcome more females to join our company," says Borit.

Meanwhile, international design consultancy firm AECOM is contributing civil, structural and geotechnical engineering, as well as building and landscape design services to the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal project. It believes its strategy to fuse global and local know-how is key.

According to AECOM's latest recruitment ambitions, the goal is to hire, engage and develop outstanding people from a wide range of backgrounds and skill capabilities. "We believe that our commitment to sustaining a diverse and inclusive environment is paramount to our continued global success," says a company spokesperson.

Worldwide, AECOM has about 45,000 employees. Over the past two decades, it has also participated in the strategic planning of Hong Kong's rail network. The company believes it is through working on such projects that employees are able to learn. In addition to hands-on experience, AECOM offers employees leadership development schemes and continuous learning opportunities through the AECOM Founding Chairman Scholarship Program.

According to Suki Chou, AECOM assistant resident engineer in Hong Kong, working for the company has provided her with a platform. "Apart from engineering design, I have numerous chances to develop a broad range of skills and grow my career," says Chou. "I feel the more ambitious I am, the larger the stage AECOM provides me with."

Anthony Keung, an AECOM senior environmental consultant in Hong Kong, says his work provides opportunities to engage in diverse environmental issues such as climate change and waste management. "I work with a team that helps me enhance my technical expertise and deliver quality work to sustain the world's natural environment," he says.

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