Hong Kong has been enjoying a construction boom in recent years despite the various global economic challenges. Many major road and rail projects are either under construction or recently completed, and several more are in the pipeline.Also, many of the Hong Kong government projects are now being procured with ICE's NEC3 suite of contracts – and the region is home to 5,300 ICE members, the highest number outside the UK.To showcase some of this recent innovative work, ICE has therefore commissioned and published a special issue of its Civil Engineering journal. It's your chance to read how the technical problems presented by a densely populated modern city can be overcome by the ingenuity of civil engineers. The challenges vary significantly, but ultimately they come down to how civil engineers can meet the demands of the current generation without compromising future needs.Achieving excellenceOur first paper (To, 2016) describes how the Hong Kong Construction Industry Council has worked to achieve its vision for excellence in the region's construction industry through promoting best practice, training and recognition of professional expertise.We then move to more technical matters, with an overview of subsea tunnel engineering provided by Morris et al (2016). They describe both the history of subsea tunnelling in Hong Kong and look to the future by describing the various projects that are moving forward.Our third paper (Flyvbjerg et al, 2016) provides a basis for reference class forecasting for Hong Kong's major roadworks projects. Co-authored by Hon Chi-Keung, the government's most senior civil engineer, the paper summaries a study undertaken to compare the forecast and actual costs and durations of 25 roadworks projects in the region.Ho et al (2016) then describe in detail how landslide risk is managed systematically and outline how the strategy for such a key element of the Hong Kong civil engineering community has evolved over time.Maintaining quality of lifeCammelli and Wong (2016) discuss the different assessment types for urban ventilation in Hong Kong and lessons learned that can be applied elsewhere. This shows the importance for civil engineers of maintaining quality of life in increasingly densely developed cities.The hot topic of enhancing public engagement is discussed by Ng et al (2016), with case studies provided of not only Hong Kong projects but also others in Australia and Canada. A roadmap is proposed by the authors for future consultation on similar projects.The striking cruise terminal on the former Kai Tak airport site is then provided by Wong et al (2016) as an example of sustainable development in Hong Kong, while our final paper by Lee et al (2016) describes the major efforts made to clean up the much-loved Victoria Harbour through the design and construction of a major sewage tunnel.Unprecedented responseWe had an unprecedented response to our invitation for papers, with around 25 submissions. It was therefore a challenge to arrive at the eight papers that have made their way into the special edition. Others are being published in regular issues of Civil Engineering (e.g. Tam et al (2016), Li et al (2016), Luk et al (2016) and Au et al (2016)) as well as other ICE Proceedings journals.The ever-changing skyline and subterranean infrastructure of Hong Kong will no doubt be the subject of another special issue in the near future.