Hong Kong is a city of paradoxes: part of China yet economically independent, a skyline of marvel yet with a bounty of wild nature at hand, a futuristic city with its head stuck in the past—at least according to Designer and Architect Kevin Chu and his wife, Giulia Dibonaventura.
The couple live 25 minutes by ferry from Downtown Hong Kong, on the car-free section of Lantau Island, Discovery Bay, where so you’ll find tricked-out golf carts buzzing around. The setting is the perfect backdrop for Kevin and Giulia’s home, which reconciles the natural beauty around them and the urban metropolis on the main island. From their shelves, made of recycled styrofoam that resemble the complex structures within a beehive, to their rooftop garden where the couple grow 80 percent of the vegetables they consume, Kevin and Giulia’s home is a green haven in the city.
Kevin’s 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.
This portrait is part of Home Stories – a collaboration Freunde von Freunden produces with Siemens Home Appliances. To find out more about John’s home, see the portrait with him on the Home Stories site.
But Kevin owes his professional and private interest in the environment to 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, an Italian expat, had to introduce some of the ideas she grew up with to Kevin. “I grew up in a family that was respectful of other people and the environment,” says Giulia, who 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…”
“When you respect the environment you’re respecting the lives of others as well.“
“I grew up in a family who doesn’t give a shit,” says Kevin with a laugh, “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 began to learn.”
“I’m always going after Kevin about the recycling,” confirms Giulia.
“If I throw something into the wrong bin I’ll get killed,” says Kevin.
“Discovery Bay would be a really easy area to make fully electric…”
As a Hong Kong Native, Kevin’s initial lack of concern for the environment reflects a paradigm for the city that the couple hopes to change. “Hong Kong, one of the most GDP rich countries in the world, is one of the slowest to catch up in terms of sustainability,” languishes Kevin, “We have all the money in the world to take care of these problems. All our neighbors: Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Thailand are doing better. It really pisses me off that we haven’t caught up. There’s a lot of upsetting things in Hong Kong but people don’t speak up.”
Some of the sustainable designs that Kevin has dreamed up
Regardless, Kevin and Giulia have carved out a nice lifestyle for themselves that allows them to experience the ideas that Kevin works with at COC Design and explore different possibilities of what life in the city can be like. Since within the career-driven culture of Hong Kong, long nights spent in the office are more the standard than an exception, many end up neglecting aspects of life that Kevin and Giulia wouldn’t want to miss out on: “If you work until 8:30 in the evening you don’t cook. You just want to go home, eat and go to sleep.”
“When we were living in Beijing and I was a working a lot, I’d be the crazy one in the kitchen baking cookies in the middle of the night,” says Giulia, “The next day I’d get up and go to work. So it also depends on if you like cooking or not. Both of us love cooking. Sometimes we’re lazy too and like to go out but a lot of people here simply can’t cook.”
The high price of vegetables in Hong Kong is also disproportionately high, further discouraging normal working people from cooking at home and encouraging Kevin and Giulia to own a garden. “We grow all sorts of different leafy greens because we eat a lot of salad. Salad is very expensive in Hong Kong!” says Giulia, “The cheapest one is like three Euros for a small piece of lettuce, which is grown in the US.”
“The most frequent comment we’ve gotten at our place, and this is a good idea of the Hong Kong mentality, is ‘do you sell your vegetables?’” says Kevin standing beside a patch of arugula growing politely in a container on their roof. Being in their idyllic home it’s easy to forget the hot and loud streets of Hong Kong and the vast differences between their lifestyles and that of the average person. “We’re the black sheep couple so to speak!” admits Giulia.
But the couple does see a future of possibilities for a sustainable Hong Kong if 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?” asks Kevin, “and 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 city doesn’t want to spend the money on the infrastructure though.”
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 people like Kevin and Giulia might just have to make up that difference.
Sustainable living solutions and a collective design consciousness are defining characteristics of our time—and Kevin and Giulia take that mentality to heart. They’re an inspirational couple who have cut past the static and designed a different way of living that benefits both themselves and the rest of the world.
You can find more information about Kevin’s work on the COC Design
And a big thanks to Siemens Home Appliances for helping us delve into these architecturally inspirational homes. See more on the Siemens Home Appliances site and take a look at our other portraits in collaboration with Siemens Home here.