welcome to the ah HDC podcast series, Health Design on the Go. I'm your host David Cummins, and today we are speaking to Florence Wong, who is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales in Australia based in Hong Kong. Florence has a background in architecture from the Hong Kong University and has grown her career in the world of sustainable architecture. Florence is currently doing her PhD on mass timber construction and investigating its feasibility in hot and humid southeast Asian cities. We look forward to speaking to Florence today about her research in the world of sustainable architecture. Welcome Florence. Thank you for your time.
Hi. Hello, David. How are you?
Good, thank you. . The world of sustainable architecture relatively new in the global scale. For some countries. They have been talking about sustainable architecture for decades as it is probably just growing to a, to probably more mass understanding and mass. I suppose group thinking towards sustainable architecture in Australia, but how long have you been interested in the world of sustainable architecture?
I've been working for many years in Hong Kong with a developer and but all the time, I mean, since after 2000 I think. I got myself involved in Hong Kong, the Institute of Architects and joining Green Tours. To take a look at what sustainable architecture is talking about. So I, while I'm having my full-time career, I'm paying attention to the development of this sustainable architecture and buildings. . Trying to learn from overseas.
So that's very interesting. So when you say overseas, are you talking about are you talking about Southeast Asians countries or Australia or Asia Pacific? What, what do you mean by overseas countries?
I think we went to see North Europe, I mean Scandinavia and Germany, and we also went to Singapore and Japan and a few places. Where because there are sustainable building conference every three years. So we tried to take that opportunities and go and, and see the buildings also. . Site visits and then to meet the professionals. There. . So it is a way of having our own CPD I mean, continuous professional development.
. David Cummins:
That's interesting. And what was your research showing, or what was, what have you found so far in reference to how countries that like Hong Kong have actually changed in, in its architecture in comparison to those European.
Oh, quite a big question. . But what I can say is, sustainable building is a big topic, but these days I'm focusing more on the mass timber construction. And from my early days that I learned from the sustainable buildings overseas, there was not we are not paying attention to timber yet at all, I would say. And in Hong Kong we are focusing on our own projects day to day. I understand the government is trying to, I mean, the industry is trying to learn from everyone of us to upkeep our knowledge and hence to how to contribute to the people that the industry here in Hong Kong. But, and then I think the chance is not that much because of the highland price here, and then the time and the cost. That we need to deliver in a very short period of time for all the projects. So we sort of following some part dependency in a way to deliver our projects. And there is comparatively with overseas countries, there is not many completed projects that I can say to can achieve this. Because currently this day, for example, in in Singapore we learned that there are 19 zero carbon buildings. . Not zero buildings, but in Hong Kong we have one zero carbon buildings by public. And then we, the, the industry is trying to work on it. But we are facing with a lot of constraint. The government is also trying to push it and with the policy in place. But I think if we need to compare, , we still need to do more. I can't speak on behalf of the government, but I mean from the industry, as architect, I think group of fellow architects are very eager to help and then to pursue further and sustainable construction in Hong Kong, but we need to have the chance. So I'm lucky enough to have the chance to step. As I, not to involve myself in full time projects these days. So I have the chance to learn more, and that's why I take up this PhD research in Australia. And, and what is that research showing at the moment? So I know you've, I know you're halfway through your PhD. What, what exactly are your findings thus far? Firstly I need to understand . How this sustainable. Construction is coming because in Hong Kong we do not have a much history of this. And I want to see what's the good thing of this construction. And then I find that is it a direction that worth going to? And then if it is so good should I bring it to Hong Kong? And also to see how it will adapt itself before we can. Have it been in Hong Kong? I think because all this country situations are different, not just the government's policy, but also the industry, the people's experience and also the physical environment, maybe the climate. That's why you see My topic includes the heart and human climate here, because this day I find that the mass timber have flourished in the Western country, like Europe uk, North America, in the US and Canada. Those are more of a tempered climate. Dryer and cooler and, but in also in Australia it's picking up very quickly and it, it has a Queensland , and also Brisbane, which is quite closer in the climate as, as in Hong Kong and Singapore. That's why in my research I have chosen to compare these free cities. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Brisbane, trying to see how this timber construction can really be feasible in these places. And I can see that the, the market in Europe and North America is very busy with timber. They are very busy already, and in Australia they are Picking up very quickly too. And then they are having tall buildings to timber buildings proposals in Alan and in Perth, Not just those already built in Brisbane. . As type like the 25 King. And also, in Sydney there is another one, the Altassian Tower in Central Station. That is going to start the construction work this year. , they got approval. . Going to start construction work this year. It's up to 40 stories high, it's a hybrid building. So all these trends of the mass timber construction overseas and then because in the southeast Asian country, like Singapore and Hong Kong, we have a lot of development construction, property development. We have a lot and but we are using a lot of concrete and steel that. Carbon emission is very high. If we can learn to see to bring the mass timber construction into our cities, we hope we can help to reduce carbon emission in our, in our industry. I think this is the, the big thing. . How to build it. Sustainably. And also another thing is most construction is helping the industry to modernize the way because through digital construction digital design, and then construction, we are moving from a construction site into a proof fabrication, like, like a industrialization of the construction industry. We talk about a construction 4.0. And so this is a way to help to build efficiently too, and with a high quality and, and precision. And this is a whole, whole new thing that I think we should grasp the opportunities to to learn things and then to try it out here, say using some pilot projects or at least before that, to bring the knowledge into our industry. So that more people here will be aware of the world trend and then will will step outside their, their regular practices so that they can learn how the world is moving. And then what is more suitable in Hong Kong. This will take a lot of time. In Singapore, they have the governments pushing it with incentives and policies. But in Hong Kong, we, we are still trying to discuss it with the government. So I think, , we'll do it step by step. , we are not pushing it too much, but we know we know there's a lot to do.
So I have to ask the obvious question. I understand the benefit. Timber construction in comparison to concrete, and I understand the lower embodied energy and the lower carbon emissions that that takes, but at, at the moment there is so few trees out there and obviously trees and planted trees helps reduce carbon emissions. How do you recommend, or how do you find that balance between using more trees? And planting more trees, like how do we, how do we make that more sustainable, that loop?
Okay. This is interesting because when I always talk about it and with my colleagues architects here, I got this question always being asked. And the other is about fire and durability, but just talk about the timber supply. . In fact, Why I myself, I need to convince myself that this is the way to go. So I think we are not going to talk about cutting down trees, deforestation, This is the old way of doing things. But now because we have those certification of timber materials, we have the ever C and the PFC or record the responsible wood in Australia. So this is a process. There's already a well established protocol. It's just a matter of growing it, going the certification of timber into more forests and working forests. And, and the way is we are not doing a deforestation and cutting the trees and using, but in fact, if we are going to deploy or use more timber, the forest industry will be encouraged to plant more trees. Plant more trees and also to have a controlled logging. To have a controlled what? Harvesting. . And then the, the trees being. Half is, it will be used in more valuable building products instead of cutting down and just they, they have been working for us in Europe and America, lots of them. And they're using the forest material mean timber materials to do paper and pops and, and even. Neuro, I mean Scandinavia, there are a lot of commercial forests. . But we are, in fact they're diversing their products in the construction timber. So I think there is not a way of people thinking deforesting cutting down trees. But in fact, we are working with the sustainable forestry and to make it a, a, a continuous supply of timber materials. And the thing is, if we have. Timber materials, construction in the buildings and store the carbon in the buildings. The next thing is we need to have the building designed as, as good as possible to make it durable, to keep the sequestered carbon long as possible. And the third thing is when the building is to be demolished in 50 years time, for example. Then the design. Now we better design it, that it can be dissembled at the end of the day, and there is. Process called cascading of timber materials. That's the larger beams and columns can be cut down into smaller pieces for say, furnitures and finishes, and then an even smaller pieces into small item art crafts. And then even at the end will become mounting or, and being burns as energy. So we are lengthening the whole, the whole, the usage of team materials. It's a whole life cycle. Management of the building materials and at the same time of the forest industry, they cut down the timber and then they grow more. So the first thing impression is if a forest every year they cut 2%, then it needs a rotation of 50 years to complete a one, one cycle of that forest. This is a. Layman growth some to me, but this is quite convincing to me when I first started to look at a timber. But I understand there are lots of practices in sustainable forestry, and there are lots of other experts that can talk about this. But I, I mean, this concept is already. Letting me know that we are not, we are not doing harm. . At all. We need to spread this knowledge out. That's why, that's why I said not until I get into the study of this, then I will research and discover, Oh, this is real thing. This is not just greenwash, this is not resolving, I mean, answering to people's query or the, their worries. Your PhD
is actually way bigger than just a sustainable building. It's actually, trying to change government policies, trying to actually change the way people forest, and it's, it's actually huge and a very, very important piece of data in research, which, According to me, almost has global implications. So in that situation, what do you think are some of the changes that have to happen and where is it at the earliest phase of the planning and the feasibility of the, the building? Or is it even further to that to change policy, within your government and other governments, Like, how far back do you think your research implementation has to occur?
I said, it seems very big, but my research have a time limit. And also I think we are thinking step by step, and this research is initially as a systematic auditing of what are the barriers? Say, what are the government's policy these days? What are the rules and regulations? How is the industries looking? And that's why we have that in survey. In the national survey, want to understand people's perception and, and what's their knowledge of or their experience in timber construction. Whether there will be a difference where for the people in Europe and, and Australia and North America, that they have built timber. And with those people who have known nothing about it or very little knowledge about it, will there be a perception difference already? So we are starting from. Small steps and then afterwards we, we can miss out what's the government's policies. We are not thinking we need to change it now. No, sorry, I don't have the ability to change it. But we are just as a mirror just to show to the government that this is what you are now and this is what other countries, other cities are now. This is what they're doing. This is what we are doing and we are just tab tabulating all this factors. And then. Let the policy makers think about it. . And because I think the government and us are eager to modernize the construction industry. For the safety reason and also, , for carbon emission and reasons. So I, I think they, they will put their mind in it when they know the situation. This is what I'm looking forward to. So, I'm, I, my, my PhD cannot do everything. I just want to give an account, then to list out to show the findings. . , David Cummins: I mean every, Hopefully someone else will pick up from where you've left off as well with further research. you mentioned earlier about the challenges of timber construction for like such large scale buildings and, fire and obviously, What a lot of people think of timber and fire do not go well together. Do you mind just touching, touching a bit more based on, on that, that comment?
. Florence Wong:
In fact all the buildings that be protected from fire, alright, And strangely, timber is protecting itself by fire, by char. . Still members, you need to have fire coat things. Protection coatings on the outside and timber by charring is protecting itself. It's insulating the heat from the internal, so they're protecting themself by sacrificial charring. And if we need a, a columns, say 200 by 200. So we need to increase the, the size the structure engineer can calculate for us how for one hour or two hours fire, how thick we need to add. To the size of the structural timber, I think many people you will use another comparison is when you're doing a big queue in Sydney. In Australia, we always do big queue. If it is a small sticks, two by four timber frame, like wait frame sticks, you can burn it real very easily. But if you are putting a big lock in it, it will not be burned so easily. So this is the difference. light weight frame and then the mass timber, and that's what I see the merits of mass timber, in their tackling the fire problem. . And so this is not, , I think people would be scared by the big fires in Chicago, in London. . Those things. And even the dreadful fire of London, it has nothing to do with timber. When they see this, they will relate it to timber. So this is a misconception you can say. So one of the things that we wanna find out from the survey is also to see how deep is this misconception and for the fire it's as controllable, it's predictable, and then even if the timber. Structure itself being burned locally, it can be removed. I mean, the, the damaged parts, the charring can be removed and then repaired, and by adding on new timbers to, to protect it later. The other thing is there are other ways to protect the timber structure. Before the building regulations can change so quickly. For example, in Canada or in , and even in Australia you see some buildings say the first early one is Forte. And also at the Monterey, they are protected by fire resistant boards. Giving them the one hour fire rating that, that's the building required for the government approval because at the very beginning, it's a bit hard to convince the government too. And this is another way we call it encapsulation to protect the timber. But this is not as good because it's, it's hiding, covering the timber structure, which we really want people to see. The timber itself. So it's just like the 25 king in King Street in Brisbane and in the National House and Amaroo House in Australia. These are exposed timber and also we understand many researchers and big companies, Arabs, and even with solutions in Australia, they are doing five. For open plan offices. . And, and for real one to one scale office floor and things like that to, to demonstrate to the government. Through authority and also to gather data to see how the fire will perform in this CT building. I mean, mass timber buildings. So there are many things being carried out in the R&D, and so they, they proposing larger and larger scale timber buildings. It's based on real research and calculation. So it is, it is. They're building on, , they're building on this data. So this would be safe. The government will also have a FAI on it. And the last thing is people will say that, okay, we will have the building protected by sprinkler. Okay. But I think sprinkler can be one of the protection, but we cannot rely on the sprinkler because we always know that the sprinkler can more functions. . So, so it'll be good to have it just to stop the initial spreading of fire, but we are not relying on it. I mean, the building structure design itself should be sufficient to cater, to stand for an hour. And so that's the Fire Brigades can come. One interesting thing is that (I heard it from, from North America or Europe), they said that the fire brigades the people when they get into a timber building, they feel safer than getting into a steel building because they know the behavior of timber in the fire. But for steel structure, they said there is a point that the steel will. And then we'll collapse. I just hear about this. And I also see some pictures comparing this, but I think the fire specialists, they would tell us more.
That's very, very interesting. Some of that data. When you say it like that, it makes sense. But I do think there's a lot of education that is required in reference to this because as you've just said, the research is showing many, many benefits in, in that type of construction. So just, just before we finish up where, what, what more do you think you going to learn in your research? Where do you think your research is going to land and, and how do you think you'll be able to implement that? And where would you like, your research to make it its greatest impact?
Oh, okay. I want to mention a bit of my history is when I was very small. My father owned a timber workshop, but then not, not long then timber is being looked at as a inferior material and people moving from timber squats to concrete high rise apartment blocks, and then housing assets. So I think this is one reason why I'm getting into this study of a mass timber construction. I want to see. We see, find out the issues of how to use this timber more wisely, more correctly. I mean with the good design, detailing and specification, so that, I think timber is a gift from nature. In fact, people inherently like to get clothes to nature and want to touch wood. That's why you see a lot of mimicking timber patent.
It sounds, it sounds, I was gonna say, it sounds like you've got no time because you've got so much research happening, but I mean, it's, it's just very, very impressive. I've tremendously enjoyed listening to you today. I think that your research is world changing and I also think that it has tremendous implications, not only for the Hong Kong and and Asia Pacific region, but for Australia and the world. And I do wish you all the best with your research, cuz I think it's amazing and I can't wait to read it when it's finished. Thank you for your time, Florence. Thank you. You have been listening to the Australian Health Design Council podcast series, Health Design on the go. If you would like to learn more about the AHDC, please connect with us on our website or LinkedIn. Thank you for listening.