Island cities face unique predicaments of natural confinement of expansion due to the physical site on which they are located. Hong Kong city engineers confronted this problem head on in 1991 with the construction of the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA). HKIA is currently the 10th busiest airport worldwide by passenger traffic and the world’s busiest by cargo traffic. However, just twenty years ago the possibility of this hub’s existence was in jeopardy.

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Aerial view of the Hong Kong International Aiport.

As the Hong Kong economy expanded, the city became more densely populated and built up. Additionally, Hong Kong served as a portal to China, which was expeditiously opening up international trade relations. Tall buildings crowded the skyline and one another, jostling for space in the city’s commercial districts. The Kai Tak Airport, built in 1925, was located in the heart of one such district. It claimed just one runway, and was regularly exceeding both its passenger and cargo traffic capacities annually by the 1990s. Due to the changing conditions, the airport would no longer be able to safely support the air traffic flooding the city.

Engineers and city officials set to work on a project estimated to to take 10-20 years and $20 billion to complete. However, an unexpected deadline threatened to shut down the  The authoritative Chinese government was set to assume sovereign control of Hong Kong in 1997, after which the future of the airport’s construction uncertain. Project managers resolved to avoid facing this obstacle altogether by nearly halving the predicted amount of construction time. Construction vehicles arrived on site in 1991.

The airport was built on an artificial island that was created through adjoining two existing islands and raising the sea level. This project added nearly 1% to Hong Kong’s total surface area. However, municipal officials were not content with merely constructing a new airport. They had completely re-imagined a transportation network, which connected the HKIA to mainland Hong Kong. The entire system was completed in 1998, one year after the target, but with fortunately added blessing of the Chinese government. This awesome structure was voted one of the Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century by the Construction Industry Manufacturers Association.

Plans for further development of HKIA by 2030 are in the works.

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