Hong Kong – a city of paradoxes, at least according to designer and architect Kevin Chu and his wife Giulia Dibonaventura: the city is part of China yet economically independent, has a skyline of marvel yet also a bounty of wild nature at hand, and one of the highest GDPs in the world but also it is one of the slowest places to catch-up in terms of sustainability. Our friends over at Freunde von Freunden visited the creative couple for their series of home stories in collaboration with Siemens Home and we are happy to share a glance with you all here on Urban Jungle Bloggers.
The folks of Freunde von Freunden met Kevin and Giulia at their home in a car-free neighbourhood of Lantau Island, Discovery Bay, a 25 minute ferry ride from Downtown Hong Kong. Their home reconciles the natural beauty around them with the urban metropolis of the main island, and embodies sustainable living – from their shelves, made of recycled styrofoam that resemble the complex structures within a beehive, to their rooftop garden when the couple grow 80% of the vegetables that they consume.
Kevin’s architectural firm, COC Design, while being an award-winning architecture studio, is also centered around concerns for the environment – whether it be taking influence from natural forms, using sustainable or repurposed materials and understanding the environmental impact of structures. His architectural concepts present an optimistic view of the future: of metropolises swathed in green and built out of the waste of the past, of vertical farms providing fresh produce to the city and provide a sense of community.
Kevin, Giulia, where does your interest in the environment and sustainability come from?
Kevin: I owe my professional and private interest in the environment to my wife, Giulia. Before I met Giulia, I was designing things with influences from nature and fusing nature with design but that didn’t mean I was sustainable. I was just thinking of funky ideas. Giulia, who is an Italian expat, had to introduce me to some of the ideas that she grew up with..
Giulia: I grew up in a family that was respectful of other people and the environment and was raised in a small Italian town on the Adriatic. The two things go together – when you respect the environment you’re respecting the lives of others as well. For Kevin it was a bit different…
Kevin: I grew up in a family who doesn’t give a shit, most of my family doesn’t care about the environment – if I told my cousins to buy an e-car they’d laugh at me! Since meeting my wife and her whipping my ass into shape I begun to learn.
How do you build sustainability into your life?
We’ve managed to carve out a nice lifestyle for ourselves in our green oasis away from the hustle and bustle outside on the streets. The way we live allows us to experience the ideas that I work on at COC Design and explore different possibilities of what life in the city can be like. The price of vegetables in Hong Kong is disproportionately high – salad here is very expensive, a small piece of lettuce is around 3EUR and this is flown in from the US making it hugely unsustainable. We grow our own vegetables on the roof of our house, which allows us to ensure that we produce a lot of what we eat in a sustainable (and affordable!) way. The price of fresh produce, along with the long working hours here in Hong Kong put a lot of people off cooking – long nights spent in the office are more the standard than an exception, if you get home late in the evening you don’t want to cook, you just want to go home eat, and go to sleep. We love to cook and live what we view as a healthy and sustainable lifestyle, and to do this in Hong Kong we have to break with the the norm somewhat – i.e. growing our own produce, and going against the standard working culture.
Do you think that the future is bright for a more sustainable Hong Kong?
We do definitely see a future of possibilities for a sustainable Hong Kong if prevailing attitudes change. Hong Kong doesn’t have much agriculture so why don’t we try to bring it into factory buildings and use that to supply the city? Discovery Bay would be a really easy area to make fully electric – there’s only 10,000 people, why don’t we just make it the greenest quarter of Hong Kong! The problem is though that the city doesn’t want to spend the money on the infrastructure. Given the global dance around the topic of the environment, we’re at an impasse where the future rests in the hands of governments. If governments are slow to adapt and make the changes necessary to ensure a future, the individual efforts and concerns of individuals with a commitment to sustainability like us might just have to make up that difference.
For more from this interview with Kevin and Giulia, head over to the full version over at Freunde von Freunden.