As a licensed electrical engineer with RTKL Associates Inc. based in Baltimore, MD USA, I am part of the mission critical engineering group, focusing on design and construction support for mission critical facilities such as data centers and financial institutions. In the mission critical market, Asia has recently been a strong focus for us, due to the high amount of new facilities being designed and constructed in that part of the world. I applied and was ultimately approved for an Arcadis Quest to spend about a week with the critical facilities group of EC Harris, a built asset consultancy who does project management for a number of large multinational clients in Hong Kong. The purpose of my Quest was to learn about the mission critical market, practices and culture in Hong Kong, and bring back ideas for future collaboration with different Arcadis partner companies throughout the world.
My Quest began with a sixteen hour direct flight from New York to Hong Kong. When I arrive dazed and confused I was graciously met at the airport at 6AM by my host Stephen Hilton, who I would be shadowing for the majority of my time there. My interactions with the EC Harris team started on the second day of my trip where I was taken to the corporate headquarters of one of the main banks based out of the city. Hong Kong has always been a hub of worldwide finance since early in its history. Banks are also one of the biggest customers in the mission critical industry given the crucial elements of their business and requirement for uptime of their operations. Along with Shanghai and Tokyo, Hong Kong is also the main financial centers of East Asia and therefore a key market for mission critical projects.
In addition to the centrally located main headquarters of the bank, I also had the opportunity to tour two other high reliability data centers on the outskirts of the main city. Electricity in Hong Kong is cheap, plentiful and more importantly reliable. Land on the other hand is very expensive and sparse. This creates unique challenges for mission critical designs where every square inch of space within a facility is utilized to the fullest. It also creates another design aspect which is evident all over Hong Kong, vertical expansion. Data centers in Hong Kong can grow to be many storied buildings. Both of these aspects are not as common in the United States where space is generally abundant and capital construction decisions are driven by operating costs rather than land costs.
However this does not mean that operating costs are ignored by the operators of data centers and mission critical facilities within Hong Kong. One of EC Harris’s current projects was evaluating potential energy savings within one of their client’s data centers, a topic which I am quite familiar with from similar work at RTKL in Baltimore. One of my more interesting experiences with EC Harris was being able to sit in on a meeting with their project managers, client and facility manager to discuss energy saving options; a discussion I was very much able to provide a positive contribution to. This was interesting to me due to the realization of shared scope link between EC Harris and RTKL, and the possibility for future collaboration between the two sister Arcadis companies in the future.
One of the most interesting parts of my Quest experience was the subterranean journey down beneath Central and Victoria Harbor. While electricity is in abundance within Hong Kong, that is not always the case with water. While this seems kind of ridiculous given the stifling humidity it experiences for half the year, Hong Kong has had a history of drought and the local codes are very strict on water usage. To meet this demand, many buildings use the abundant harbor and sea water as condenser water for chillers systems, rejecting heat into the sea from their air conditioning. However in such a dense urban environment like Hong Kong Island, this very often requires you to dig deep; very deep. In the case of the building I toured, the underground tunnel containing the massive condenser water piping was more than 13 stories underground. Many people can say they have been floating atop Victoria Harbor on the Star Ferry, few people can boast they have been under it.
In addition to the knowledge share gained from the majority of my time in Hong Kong, the EC Harris team also made great strides to show me around the city and introduce me to local culture, and most importantly the food. Key cultural experiences in Hong Kong ranged from nighttime photos from Victoria Peak, dinner at a local food market, happy hour in Soho and rush hour on the MTR from Kwun Tong to Central. Stephen, who is also a rather avid sailor also gave me the opportunity for a Sunday cruise to the southern island of Po Toi where we had lunch at a local Chinese seafood restaurant.
At the conclusion of my Quest, Stephen and his team invited me to participate in Arcadis Hong Kong’s spring dinner, the greatest gathering of Hong Kong Arcadis staff of that season. Unlike traditional dinners, this one involved not only “fancy dress”, the British word for costumes, but a choreographed dance presentation for around 300 other people. Our group’s theme involved some sort of ninja television show, and I proudly donned my costume on the MTR while making my way to central Kowloon.
At the conclusion of the Quest, I feel I have had not only gained additional professional knowledge and experiences into Asian mission critical installations, but also was able to meet other mission critical professionals within the Arcadis network of companies. Moving forward I hope EC Harris and RTKL Associates is able to utilize potential synergies in design qualifications to further expand the Arcadis mission critical work. I would also like to thank Stephen Hilton and his team for being such gracious hosts and introducing me to so many exciting things within Hong Kong.
Matt Danowski, RTKL Associates Inc.
Baltimore, MD USA