Tan Tan's Move from the NCCR DFAB to Hong Kong's Faculty of Architecture

Tan Tan has recently taken up his new position as Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong in the Department of Real Estate and Construction, which is part of the Faculty of Architecture. The NCCR DFAB alumni was involved in a large-scale research project during his time at the NCCR DFAB. Based at TU Delft in the Netherlands, he worked closely with researchers at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. In this interview, Tan looks back on his time at NCCR DFAB and explains what he plans to do in his new role at the University of Hong Kong.

Tan Tan at HKU

Tan, What is your link to the University of Hong Kong?

The most straightforward interpretation is the physical link. Before starting my PhD, I spent a year doing academic research in Hong Kong; beyond that, I am from mainland China, which is very close. In addition, when I consider the definition of link on a deeper level, I think it could be the link between personal identity and organizational identity. I have an interdisciplinary background in architecture and construction management, and I studied and worked in organizations across various cultures and countries. The University of Hong Kong (HKU) encourages such interdisciplinary research and international experiences and tries to use these as institutional strengths. I think this is the more fundamental and implicit link between my personal identity and HKU’s identity.

What attracted you to this position?

HKU has leading faculties and students. It is Asia’s global university. Both government and industry are promoting Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) and Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), which are on my research interest list. Among all the different reasons, the most crucial one for me is that HKU can provide me with a leading architecture-based faculty environment to research construction engineering and management. This aligns with my background, personal interests, and long-term development goals. It allows me to engage not only with scholars in construction management but also with architects and urban planners.

What do you look forward to in your current position?

In my current role, I look forward to advancing my research in two directions. Firstly, I focus on modern methods of design for industrialized construction, including DfMA, modular design, and computational design. This research direction echoes my educational background in architecture alongside the growing societal need for digitization and industrialization. Secondly, I am also interested in digital collaboration in the built environment, building upon my previous research at NCCR DFAB. Future interests will encompass BIM, human-robot collaboration, and interactive XR. I hope to research digital design and construction in these two directions.

You are an NCCR DFAB Alumni. Looking back on your time in Delft, what did you learn about your way of doing research when you were involved in the NCCR?

Reflecting on my time in Delft as an NCCR DFAB member, I see that my experience contrasted significantly with my PhD research, which was more of an independent work. At NCCR, I was part of a large-scale research project for the first time, requiring collaboration with people from diverse disciplinary backgrounds. My position in Delft, being hosted there, amplified this interdisciplinary experience. I needed to establish connections and collaborate with individuals from two different countries (Switzerland and the Netherlands) and institutions (ETH/NCCR and TU Delft), putting myself in the distinct cultures of these countries and institutions, which I found quite challenging in my first month. I moved from one extreme, a very independent PhD project, to another, involving significant coordination and cooperation. This was an invaluable research experience, teaching me how different organizational cultures and collaboration models can influence research outcomes and methodologies, as well as the working styles and perceptions of researchers themselves. This experience was also particularly relevant to my specific research at NCCR, focusing on how project organization affects the delivery of products, namely digitally fabricated buildings.

Where do you see potential in digital fabrication methods at the University in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is promoting MiC and DfMA, with many examples already present in the industry. Based on this city, at the departmental, faculty, and university levels, there is also much attention toward digitalization. And digital fabrication could be one way to deal with the construction challenges in this high-density city. MiC may be a potential scenario. Some of the new faculty members have relevant research backgrounds. In terms of teaching, our school offers various master’s programs, such as the MSc in Digital Management of Built Assets and the MSc in Advanced Architectural Design, opening new degree programs and courses related to advanced manufacturing techniques and AI.