Andrew Currie may be Australian but he’s lived his life almost entirely in Asia. Raised in Singapore and with work experience in Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Indonesia, Currie is very familiar with the region. While examining his options in Asia for the home of his architecture firm, he settled on Vietnam.
As cofounder of the Vietnamese architecture and interior design firm OUT-2 Design, Currie has worked on International Property Award-winning projects like the Sanctuary in Ho Tram, and Maison Marou Hanoi. OUT-2 Design are also behind the inventive ISHCMC Secondary Library. Throughout his work with OUT-2 Design Currie has emphasized safe, ethical design, as well as social responsibility.
So, Vietcetera paid a visit to the OUT-2 Design’s office to learn more about Currie’s life, philosophy, and work in Vietnamese architecture.
How did you become interested in architecture?
It seems that I developed a fascination with space from an early age, perhaps around five. I have vague memories of complex spaces that captivated me.
Other memories from my childhood are more vivid. Like the house of a Japanese school friend—while I was living in Singapore—designed around a large internal courtyard with lush greenery and colorful fish. Another strong memory is the complex interplay of spaces and levels in other school friends’ apartments in Singapore.
I always enjoyed art and drawing at school, and in my senior years, I discovered my talent for anything technical. It all fell together.
What stands out most to you about architecture in Vietnam?
The diverse mix of architectural languages and precedents in Vietnamese architecture means almost anything is possible. Anything can fit in.
Throughout their histories, architecture and design in Vietnam have been influenced by other cultures from around the world. While this is still the case today, in the last five years or so we have seen a contemporary kind of architecture emerge that is distinctly Vietnamese.
How has OUT-2 Design adapted to this unique context?
Working in Vietnam epitomises the risk-reward paradigm. There are great opportunities here for designers, but also plenty of risks. During OUT-2 Design’s fifteen years of operations, we have seen countless local and international firms establish, disappear, or morph into something they never intended to be.
The greatest opportunity is that you can truly be the designer you want to be and find the projects here to support that.
What was the first challenge OUT-2 Design faced?
When we opened our practice fifteen years ago we found it extremely challenging to find local staff with the knowledge and experience we wanted. The solution was to bring in staff and teach them our way of approaching Vietnamese architecture.
That means we prioritize ethics and quality—and we don’t chase publicity. We also draw no distinction between staff other than their different levels of knowledge and experience. We have a very open workspace with no separate offices which reflects our view of how an architecture firm should run as a creative studio where everyone contributes to design.
What makes OUT-2 unique?
OUT-2 Design embodies an unusual mix of creativity and business savvy. I have worked on both sides of the equation as a client and a consultant, so I want our work to be a synthesis of both without compromising either. OUT-2 Design is also one of the oldest international Vietnamese architecture firms.
We have strong social and design agendas and pursue these in our commercial practice. This has resulted in our working with prestigious clients like Nike and Microsoft. Corporations trust us to do quality work.
OUT-2 Design also insists on building responsibly. We consistently meet international safety standards, use sustainable design strategies, and work with high-quality materials that will last. That’s especially true when working on projects that involve schools and children. We want to make sure that fire safety is up to code, and that we create spaces that are reliable and risk-free.
What is good architecture to you?
As architects and designers, we cannot help but be concerned with matters of composition, form, and aesthetics. These are the most visible evidence of our contribution to the built environment.
However, “good” is challenging to define because a broad spectrum of people experience architecture. Each person is seeking a different outcome from that experience. Ultimately, what is “good” is in the eye of the beholder. Unsurprisingly, this often has little to do with architectural form or composition.
For me, “good” Vietnamese architecture, visually, is modern—of its time—but also forward-looking, free of ornament, asymmetrical in composition, and efficient in its use of space and materials.
What sorts of clients and projects are your favorites to take on, and why?
We like clients whose commitment to their projects mirrors ours. And we also want to ensure we are the best fit for our clients. If we feel we are not, we would rather say “no” to a potential project and recommend a more suitable firm.
OUT-2 Design is a very client-centric firm, drawing much of our creative inspiration from the people we work with—who they are and what they are passionate about.
This is the opposite of the “doing whatever the client says or giving them whatever they want” attitude. That strategy misses the point of being professional. Being professional means that we need to negotiate outcomes that can bring disparate agendas together.
The projects I like most are those built on high levels of mutual respect and trust. Having these increases our chances of excellence in design.
How important is it to preserve our heritage buildings?
Ethics and architecture go hand-in-hand. You can see the impact destruction and development are having all around us in Ho Chi Minh City. I’m not an advocate of preservation for its own sake—for the retention of anything old out of a fear of the new. Like any living thing, our cities need to regenerate and evolve. Creative destruction is a natural part of evolution.
However, it’s incumbent on us to do our best to make sure whatever “new” we create is a positive contribution to whatever it replaces. This is where we need to be guided by ethics and our own morals, and not be bullied into projects that are ethically and morally compromised.
Who should we speak with next?
The first Vietnamese architecture firm to come to my mind is Tropical Space. Based in HCMC, they do urban design, master planning, architecture, interior design, and landscape. They also prioritize environmentally friendly design and sustainable building material usage.
One example of the firm’s work is the Wasp House in Bin Tan district. Tropical Space’s goal was to make a stylish, well-lit living space accessible to middle-class families.
But the company’s still at a startup level. You can compare it to the firm Kientruc O—only it’s even younger. Tropical Space has very few team members but has still managed to complete fascinating small projects. They’re definitely a firm to watch.