From Hong Kong to Mars: How this local architect won Nasa's Habitat Challenge award

Nasa honours Sidney Tang and his teammate for their 3D-printed vision for a Mars habitat that would be cost-effective and use in-situ materials

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 October, 2015, 7:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 October, 2015, 3:32am

A Hong Kong architect is encouraging fellow dreamers in the city to keep pursuing their ambitions after he picked up a prize for his house design for future residents of Mars in Nasa's 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.

The habitat model by Sidney Tang, 31, a registered architect working for Sun Hung Kai Properties, and his mentor Dr Ng Tze-chuen was among a handful of entries recognised among more than 165 designs by 538 contestants. The competition was hosted by the US space agency and another American organisation, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

Contestants were asked to develop architectural concepts that took advantage of 3D printing's unique capabilities to imagine what habitats on Mars might look like. Tang's team was the only one from Hong Kong that was shortlisted, and it won one of three honourable mentions, placing after the first, second and third-prize winners.

Tang said the design had a spacious interior and arranged three circular domes in an overlapping triangle formation, ensuring strong structural integrity and optimal aerodynamics with sparing use of building materials.

The elements that helped the team win an honourable mention included emphasis on sourcing construction materials from the red planet, recycling and cost-effectiveness.

Tang, who was born abroad and moved to the city as an infant, said he came across details of the contest earlier this year and decided to join because he was "curious" and "it could stimulate my thoughts about how the world will be in the future".

The architect, who finished his schooling in the city and graduated from university in Los Angeles, took a month working after office hours with Ng, a dentist knowledgeable about Mars with robotics expertise, to finalise the design. The pair took another month to produce the model with 3D printing technology from the Hong Kong Productivity Council at their own expense.

I didn’t expect I would get a prize, as I knew nothing about the work from other contestants until late last month
Sidney Tang

He visited New York with the 3D model late last month, and on September 27 he attended a presentation ceremony at the World Maker Faire in the city.

"It felt great and sudden," said Tang. "I didn't expect I would get a prize, as I knew nothing about the work of other contestants."

The architect said he was not brilliant, citing a teacher he respected deeply in describing himself: "Never an ace student, but always a good student."

The enthusiastic model maker said his academic achievements were just "ordinary", but he added: "I'm a curious person and willing to try. I'm passionate about working for a better future for society."

Some friends were not initially excited about his participation in the contest, saying he should focus on something more practical. "Having a dream is not enough, but we should keep trying," Tang said. "Then you might succeed, possibly with some luck."

His recent contributions for Sun Hung Kai Properties included work on Twin Regency in Yuen Long and 33 Tseuk Luk Street in San Po Kong.

The US$25,000 top prize went to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office of New York for a design called Mars Ice House. Tang's honorable mention came with no financial reward.