Project That Shaped Me: Claire Kirton

Claire on site at Hong Kong International Airport

I have loved building since I was a small girl – from sandcastles to dolls houses, Lego to Meccano. I am fortunate that I have been able to build a career out of a passion!

Born in Leeds and raised in North Devon, I gained a BSc Hons in Quantity Surveying from the University of Salford and soon entered a graduate employment scheme with a local Civil Engineering firm. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate enough to live and work all over the UK as well as spend several years in Asia. Whilst in Asia working as a Quantity Surveyor for a Construction Consultancy Firm, I passed my RICS Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) and became a Chartered Quantity Surveyor.

Whilst in Asia, I spent some time living and working in Hong Kong. It was here I joined the team for one of the projects that helped shape my career. At the time, I was working for a Joint Venture firm (JV), a collaboration between British, Chinese and Japanese construction consultancies. The project was the prestigious new Airport Terminal Building at Hong Kong International Airport.

The contract at Chek Lap Kok (Hong Kong International Airport) consisted of: 89 lifts, 2.5 km of moving walkways, 74 aircraft loading bridges and 248 check-in desks. The terminal’s full length was over 1.8 km and a third of the building was below ground, the scale of this project was simply phenomenal. With a total floor plan area of about 515,000m2, the cost to create such a building was HK$10.1 billion (~ £1 Billion). At the time of construction, it was the worlds single largest construction project. To add to the sheer scale of the development, the build of the art airport terminal from scratch took less than three years.

When I first joined the project, the airport landing platform had just been formed by joining two islands using reclaimed land. The platform itself covers 1,248 hectares, the same area at the time as London’s Heathrow, and is over five kilometres long. In its entirety the reclaimed land covered 938 hectares, 310 hectares of this was from the two original islands of Chek Lap Kok and Lam Chau.

I was living on Hong Kong Island whilst working on the project and my daily commute consisted of travelling on the 6 am ferry boat for an hour’s journey to site, six days per week. This was definitely a shock to the system! This enabled me to develop the stamina and determination that is sometimes needed working in the construction industry, and is something I have carried with me ever since. Whilst the work can at times be challenging, this only brings greater reward and satisfaction upon seeing a project completed.

My role in this landmark project was to oversee the £2 million fire stopping subcontract works. Due to the vast scale of the development there were extensive holes and openings that required fire sealing, I was responsible for guaranteeing their safety. This was in a building that is 1.2km long and 515,000m2, so you can only begin to imagine the enormity of the job at hand. So, whilst my role in the larger scale of the scheme may have seemed minor, every single one of these ‘minor roles’ is an essential part of getting a project safely to completion.

It was in this role that I discovered just how vital it is to be a small cog in a very huge machine! My contribution and being one of these ‘cogs’ on this project was crucial to the safety of the overall development. Every single person involved in any project from conception to completion plays an indispensable role in achieving a successful outcome for both the client and their projects.

Working collaboratively is a fundamental part of working in the construction industry. Committing to pulling together as a team, working hard and communicating effectively is how projects are best delivered,  regardless of scale. For me experiencing collaboration like this first hand and delivering a project like Hong Kong International Airport ingrained this ethos into how I now work on a daily basis. Without all of these elements and each individual’s contribution, it would’ve been impossible to deliver a project of this scale.

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