Climate-Responsive High-rise Housing

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The Climate-Responsive High-rise Housing research project explores sustainable environmental design strategies and policy recommendations for high-rise residential buildings in high-density, warm and humid urban settings. Drawing from on-site fieldwork, occupant interviews and environmental analytic simulations of five existing high-rise residential buildings in Hong Kong – each representing a unique high-rise typology – this research project quantifies and makes visible the unseen environmental forces affecting occupant thermal comfort and energy-use, and questions how the host architecture and surrounding urban morphology play a role in shaping the thermal environments both within and outside of tall buildings. Conventional knowledge about sustainable environmental design is often undermined or invalidated by the human activities and variable levels of obstruction and exposure found in high-density urban settings. Therefore the design and research agenda of this project explores a new high-density urban calibration of sustainable environmental design strategies for high-rise residential buildings by quantifying and responding to the daily, seasonal, and sectional variations found in Hong Kong’s high-density vertical microclimates.

The Climate-Responsive High-rise Housing research project was invited for presentation at the Development Bureau of the Hong Kong Central Government’s ‘Liveability by Design’ exhibition, and was subsequently peer-reviewed by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and the Hong Kong Institute of Architects and selected for exhibition in the Hong Kong pavilion at the 2018 Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, Italy. Knowledge gained from this research project forms the basis of a forthcoming book to be published by Routledge in winter 2020.


Design team: Olivier Ottevaere (project leader), Weijen Wang, Chad McKee, Yvonne Meng (project manager)
Department of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong,
Students Team: He Yizhen, Ji Xiang, Liu Kaixuan, Sun Kexuan, Song Huiqing, Romeo Chang, Kevin Lai, Chan Shuman
Contractor: Anji ZhuJing bamboo technology co. LTD.
Client: Lingfeng management committee of Anji county, Zhejiang province.
Construction cost:  70, 000 RMB

‘Crest’ is a rest area and restaurant situated on a gentle slope along a river bank. It is accessed from the main road and served by a pedestrian path descending along the 40-meter length of the project. ‘Crest’ is made of three distinct parts; a retaining wall and concrete foundation receiving a bamboo structure which in turns supports a pleated roof, covering a shaded area of around 150 sqm.

A double retaining wall houses the main facilities and services such as toilets and kitchen from which a series of concrete slabs cascades towards the river bank to partly function as seating. The bamboo structure is organized in three rows of columns secured along the slabs’ edges. 31 different size columns, made of bundles of bamboo poles, are each flaring upwards, splitting and bending in 4 different directions to delineate the specific roof profiles.

A succession of V-shaped channels aligned longitudinally with the retaining wall articulate the roof-scape, gradually changing from peaks to valleys. At one end of the wall, the roof crest peaks over 6 meters, echoing the mountainous silhouette in the background. Towards the other end, the roof channels downwards to eventually merge and disappear with the landscape.

The main social space below the roof is qualitatively demarked by the articulation of its ceiling plane. In areas identified with more solar exposure, bamboo poles are placed closer together to provide greater shading, whereas in zones with less direct sun exposure, the clearance between poles is increased. Consequently, this not only offers a unique and differentiated material expression but also a confortable space for leisure, responsive to its environment.

HEAT: What can we do with it?

Studio name: Architectural Design 5

Ecologies Sustainability Regeneration

Urban Heat Stress in Central

Due to the competing pressures of climate change and population growth, Hong Kong’s urban fabric is growing more compact and warmer, and thus more dependent upon mechanical systems to achieve thermal comfort. This urban phenomena has altered the city’s subtropical climate and produced a complex array of super-heated micro-climates squeezed between tall buildings. Heat is intensified by the city’s anthropogenic activities, building operations, and dense urban morphology, and stratified in section from the street level to the rooftops. By obstructing existing environmental flows, urban buildings disrupt the thermal environment of their surroundings by interfering with air movement, levels of exposure, and the process by which solar radiation is reflected, transmitted, and absorbed (Yannas, 2013). What can we do about heat in Hong Kong? The Heat Studio engages the Ecology Sustainability Regeneration (ESR) research platform by exploring heat as a fundamental parameter for design in warm climates. The studio research  problematizes the causes of urban heat stress in Hong Kong by examining the daily, seasonal, and sectional variations found in the micro-climates of Central. Defining the conditions for a symbiotic relationship between buildings and the urban climatology of their surroundings are the primary concern of this studio. Knowledge and understanding of the physical principles underlying this relationship, along with the computational tools to translate them into architectural propositions form the core design research agenda for this studio.

High-rise Residential Building Enclosure: Adaptive Strategies for the Vertical Climatology of Hong Kong

Principal Investigator: D. Chad MCKEE (PI), Simos YANNAS (Co-I)
Funding body: HKU Department of Architecture, The Architectural Association School of Architecture – Energy & Environment Studies Programme


The High-rise Residential Building Enclosure research agenda quantifies environmental parameters affecting the vertical climatology of high-rise residential buildings in Hong Kong’s three most common residential density zones during the warm summertime season. Field measurements conducted over a typical summer week provide an empirical measure for air temperature and humidity variations found at the lower, middle, and upper floors, as well as horizontally across the building plan of a typical cruciform high-rise residential building. The collected field measurements are used to calibrate a base thermal model for simulation studies. Analytic work included in this research encompasses airflow, daylighting, and insolation studies, along with associated thermal simulations. The resultant data provides a full range of benchmarks for passive design strategies for high-rise residential building enclosure according to variations in urban density and associated sky exposure. New adaptive systems of building enclosure are proposed for each test case and quantitatively evaluated for thermal performance and cooling load reductions. The design application strategies recommended here show how elements of building enclosure could be adapted according to orientation and elevation in order to reduce energy use in high-rise residential buildings.


Objectives include quantifying air temperature, daylight, humidity, and incident solar radiation values according to orientation and elevation – from ground to rooftop – for a typical cruciform high-rise residential building in Hong Kong. Specific hypothesis tested include: the potential for cooling load energy reductions resulting from formal manipulation and adaptive solar control strategies calibrated according to vertical and horizontal placement in high-rise construction.


Dynamic thermal simulation results so far demonstrate a 20% reduction (1,140 kWh) in cooling load energy demand for a typical cruciform high-rise residential building based upon the adaptive solar control strategies presented.


  • D. Chad McKee, Simos Yannas. (2016) High-rise Residential Building Enclosure: Adaptive Strategies for the Vertical Climatology of Hong Kong. Passive & Low Energy Architecture Proceedings, July 2016.
  • D. Chad McKee. (2016) Adaptive Strategies for Hong Kong’s Projecting Bay Windows. Urban Environment Design (UED) Magazine, April 2016.

Anticipated Impact

We hope that this work will set a new standard for the calibration of environmental design strategies for high-rise construction according to urban density; providing evidence for decisions about solar control and airflow calibration according to orientation, exposure, and elevation above ground.

Lawson Lai, Dharavi Water Tower for Informal Urbanism, 2011

Dharavi Water Tower for Informal Urbanism

Water inaccessibility is a global challenge. The issue becomes more critical as urban population grows rapidly. The lack of water infrastructure creates enormous difficulties for residents in developing countries and results in poor living standard.

Conventional water infrastructure in developed countries is not applicable to the extreme density and dynamics in contemporary cities in the developing world. An alternative water distribution strategy is relevant to deal with regional climate, culture and economic structure.

As a daily essential for human beings, water is potentially a tool for contemporary urban development to enhance urban life. It can form nodes for social activities in the vibrant urban context.

Biodegradation Cradle 20+

This thesis explores the integration between architecture and nature. It rethinks the whole life span of architecture from construction to demolition. Today long-lived architecture consumes enormous energy and resources for construction, operation and demolition. Meanwhile, it creates lasting toxic waste to our environment. Through the study of material biodegradation, this thesis experiments how architectural volume, massing and program are decomposed, with an intent to reinterpret architecture as an organic object from the earth, part of the earth’s ecosystem and back to the earth.

Mai Po is a vivid undisturbed realm in which every life is interacting, interrelating and inter-depending on each other in a harmonious state. Eco-tourism development by Hong Kong government increases human interruption in the area. Mai Po becomes a testing site for this zoetic habitat, and along with the passage of time, its architectural role and structure as a tourist habitat integrates with the nature (animal roost structures the site, organic construction components becomes the fertilizers). Architecture hence responds to ecosystem, opposing to nature occupancy.