“Good design functions well and looks good,” Hoanh Tran, Design Principal for HTAP Architects tells us as we look around Rice Creative’s new office which he designed with his practice’s partner, Archie Pizzini. “Rice Creative’s designs have a ‘wow-factor’ and we took that as our inspiration for this project,” he explains.
We are on the ground floor of the Dong Nhan Building at 90 Nguyen Dinh Chieu. Unlike their previous office, where Rice Creative’s team were dispersed across three different rooms on two different floors in a 1960s building that overlooked Ben Thanh Market, here everyone works together in this 124-square-meter open-plan space.
Formerly HTA, the office’s designers became HTA+pizzini once Archie Pizzini accepted Hoanh Tran’s invitation to join in 2005. Now, the architecture firm go by the shortened name HTAP.
They designed The Factory Contemporary Arts Center in District 2, and Galerie Quynh’s old gallery in the building at 151 Dong Khoi that also hosts the original L’Usine, Réhahn’s Couleurs D’Asie Gallery, and Brothers Boutique Men’s Salon.
“[Galerie Quynh] was actually cutting through a really interesting space that has layers of history to it,” Archie Pizzini remembers. “The part that joins Dong Khoi is probably pre-1900. There’s an Art Deco addition on the back of that same building, and there was a small cinema built in there, probably in the 1950s.”
This collaboration is one in a series between Rice Creative and HTAP that has included work on Saigon’s Maison Marou and some publishing projects. Recently, Rice have been helping to develop the architecture firm’s brand too.
“With this office, Rice gave us a lot of space for us to fulfill our part of the design process without putting aesthetic pressures on us. They did provide some positive input, but left it to us to make architecture out of it,” Archie remembers.
As you enter the office, there is a welcome area and across from it a meeting room, and past that is a two-sided bank of designers’ desks. Further in, there’s a library—with a stack of back issues of Monocle magazine and a host of branding and design reference books—a layout table, and a partners’ area right at the back. And it’s all flanked on one side by a long floor-to-ceiling glass window.
“There was a very short time frame for design and construction,” Archie says. “One of the interesting things [to me] is to take what might be a disadvantage and try to flip it over and use that as the project’s driver.”
To achieve that here, HTAP let furniture be the foundation of their design. Their builder, Minh Chuong, who Hoanh describes as “like the third partner in HTAP,” made the components off-site so they could control the production speed and working conditions. Then they brought the completed furniture in and set it up. “Because it’s furniture it can be adjusted—there’s built-in wiggle room—and now you have something in the design process that fits the actual situation,” Archie goes on.
“You can see very clearly by looking around that it’s made up of units. The meeting room has its own table unit that is a lightbox which you can draw on with your markers—and people are using it like that which is great,” Hoanh adds.
“The designers’ unit is designed to allow staff to interact while working; the production area unit has a cutting mat built into it. Then the exhibition area unit is arranged to accommodate clients while they review Rice’s design boards; and the chill-out area unit has built-in cushioned seating,” he continues.
Rice Creative wanted the space to be versatile. So HTAP also looked to create features that were flexible enough to support different processes, events, and groups of people. “The designers are stationed where they can talk to each other, but where privacy can be controlled by each person, and then the partners’ area is completely open—there two or three people can sit and design together,” Hoanh explains scanning the office.
“And with that need for flexibility in mind, a lot of these pieces in here can do double duty as something else. For instance, the layout table was intended to also be a buffet table during staff gatherings. The meeting room was also created to be a design area; the waiting area was meant to be a breakout area for staff. That also works with the idea of how projects come and go through the space—sometimes there’s a lot of people working together and sometimes only a few people working separately,” Archie continues.
It’s six months since the project was completed. So how do the architects feel returning to find their design has now been inhabited? “After we hand a project over to the client, some keep it exactly as we had in mind, but many other clients change things. As an architect, I’ve been through it enough that I recognize it’s something we cannot control,” Hoanh says.
“I kind of like the way people fill-in a project. Once it’s occupied, it blossoms into their space. It’s interesting to me to discover how these things we designed are being used,” Archie smiles.