'Submarines don't leak, why do buildings?' Building quality, technological impediment and organization of the building industry in Hong Kong

Yat Hung Chiang, Bo Sin Tang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


This paper addresses a naive question: Why do the new housing units in Hong Kong always leak? Conventional responses to this question, including slack construction supervision, poor workmanship, low construction cost, tight building schedule, are only superficial answers. This study addresses this question within the context of technology development and industrial organization within the house-building industry. The local building industry is notorious for its poor use of automated technology. This is reinforced by the existence of a fragmented industry that relies widely and increasingly on the use of subcontracting and procurement of labour services. Low technological applications in the house-building industry are further institutionalized by the practices of local developers, university educators and the government. This study explains why an off-site, assembly line mode of mass production of buildings cannot take off, and why the assembly work has to rely on human dexterity rather than technological precision. It is argued that the relationship between technological impediment and fragmentation of the building industry results in a vicious cycle. Unless this structural relationship is broken, poor building quality and technological backwardness will continue to linger in Hong Kong.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalHabitat International
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003


  • Building technology
  • Housing quality
  • Industrial structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nature and Landscape Conservation

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