A lot has changed in the past two years. Social distancing has found a place in everyday vernacular, and continues to make its presence known even as we take teetering steps towards a mysterious, though oft-repeated, future that is a new normal.

These are steps that everyone has had plenty of time to think about – including Hong Kong-born architect and designer Steve Leung, the visionary behind his eponymous award-winning firm Steve Leung Design Group.

He’s groomed the company, now one of the biggest and brightest in Asia, over a span close to three-and-a-half decades long. He’s also delivered projects at the zenith of luxury meets functionality in more than a hundred cities across the globe, including Shangi-La Hotel at The Shard in London and One Shenzhen Bay. 

But the Covid-19 pandemic is altogether new – and with it, a paradigm shift that encompasses new challenges for designers like Leung to find balance within. The prolific architect, who recently drew back the curtains on Club C+, a members-only cigar club in Hong Kong slated for an opening late this year, tells us about what he thinks good design is all about, and why it’s so important to put what matters most at the centre of it all – humanity.

Club C+, Hong Kong
Club C+, Hong Kong

Tell us more about your core philosophy when it comes to design.

Design is about life, and life is about people, living, and experience. Good design will always be human-centred – providing a harmonious fusion of aesthetics and functionality that serves people and their needs in the best way possible, while improving the quality of everyday life. That said, I’ve witnessed a shift in demand – people are gravitating towards holistic lifestyle approaches, instead of mere materialistic endeavours, with more conscious appreciation for indicators of quality of life in design such as fresh air, abundant natural light, and greenery. Despite new trends coming and going, original ideas that respond to people’s fundamental needs functionally and more so psychologically will be the most sough-after designs for their power to create positive change.

Speaking of new trends, what has changed over the past two years – and what do you think deserves a place in the new normal?

In the upcoming years, I firmly believe that quality of design will be assessed through the lens of major trends of sustainability, wellness, flexibility, and integration with smart technology, with design playing an crucial role in confronting today’s environmental challenges.

A silver lining of the pandemic is increased awareness towards design principles such as sustainability and well-being, now essential when carving new design outcomes. For example, green building standards like LEED and WELL certification are increasingly considered and adopted across today’s design concepts, which in turn creates more biophilic spaces and spurs utilisation of eco-friendly and reusable materials and finishing. On a side note, I also expect a higher demand for flexible spaces, especially within the personal setting. As we strive towards a post-pandemic era, I believe we will continue to see more work-From-Home policies applied, with a reliance on multi-functional spatial layouts that blur the boundaries between private homes and traditional workplaces. These include personalised spaces that are integrated with smart tech for utmost customizability.

I certainly hope Asia takes on a leading approach in normalising design practices that employ natural, sustainable and recycled materials in a wider sense, along with smart and eco-friendly energy-saving systems – that all add toward the improvement of our community and planet.

(Related: National Museum of Singapore revisits iconic playgrounds of the past)

What are some design trends that you think will emerge post-pandemic?

People are spending more time at home, whether for work or leisure. Thus, I imagine the “post-pandemic home” to be a highly-flexible environ, encompassing multifunctional layouts able to unfold new perspectives on how we approach our traditional living habits and working experience.

City living is a great example of how design is changing, especially with the evolution of the traditional office setting. Work-from-home remains the status quo in many urban contexts, and more people want dedicated workspaces within the safety of their home. In terms of design, this translates to new opportunities that are redefining our living spaces. Again, smart technologies play a crucial role, with IoT (Internet of things) providing a higher degree of space customisation that deeply connects interior design and technology.

These home workspaces will benefit from carefully-selected “smart” furniture pieces with multiple functions – such as practical dining tables with wide and easy-to-clean surfaces – will probably become a preferred choice among home owners. Signature “meeting backdrops” featuring neutral colours or eye-catching paintings will also be the norm, especially with today’s frequency of online chats. Abundancy of plants and flowers will enrich the space too, creating a sort of “secret garden” particularly in those densely populated cities – like Hong Kong, where it is rare to enjoy a full-fledged garden of your own.

Finally, with the constant risk that kindergartens and schools might suspend classes, at home workspaces are also set to integrate children-focused areas for kids to entertain themselves: playful “activity stations” in cheerful colours and well-equipped with distractions are paramount to ease the multi-tasking between parenting and job duties.

Club C+, Hong Kong
Club C+, Hong Kong

Let’s talk outside of the home, you’ve recently unveiled Club C+, a members-only cigar club in Hong Kong. How do you think that will fare in the endemic world?

To me, luxury is synonymous with excellent quality and great attention to detail, and of course, top-notch exclusivity and refined enjoyment. In my projects, these elements are expressed through the harmonious blend of colours, careful selection of materials, clever use of space and proportions. Club C+ is one of my most recent design achievements here in Hong Kong that perfectly embodies all these qualities of luxury design.

Where it comes to “pandemic-proof design”, highly personalised and private lifestyle experiences are at the forefront. Therefore I believe my original vision for Club C+ is perfect for present day requirements. More than an enviable destination, Club C+ also provides its members with a private space that is safe, clean, and comfortable. In fact, we plan to open more branches across other cities, including Shanghai and Tokyo, where members can meet friends across the world in secluded “home-away-from-home” environs.

And apart from exclusivity and luxurious experiences, how else can good design benefit the world?

Since the very beginning of my career, I ‘ve always envisioned design as an incredibly powerful tool that can shift the narrative of today’s societal and environmental challenges, helping our communities and planet progress. As designers, we have the means and responsibility to ease these challenges through professional design outcomes that transcend mere aesthetics and functionality. It’s our mission to improve the world by creating inclusive and sustainable spaces to live, work and play. Good design engenders a positive and lasting impact in our everyday lives through the creation of constructive and enduring elements within the built landscape that tackle and eventually resolve societal and environmental issues – all part of Steve Leung Design Group’s shared vision of “human-centric good design”.

For more on Steve Leung Design Group.