When Japanese mega-retailer UNIQLO opened in downtown Saigon in December 2019, it didn’t just have stacks of affordable, everyday basics on display. The store was also to make a statement.
UNIQLO commissioned Vietnam’s Vo Trong Nghia Architects to create a multi-level, site-specific installation made of bamboo that dominates the space and conveys the fashion brand’s eco ethos.
Perhaps no other Vietnamese architect embodies the spirit of sustainability better than Vo Trong Nghia, who has earned a reputation as a pioneer in bamboo structures. From that foundation, the trend of incorporating nature and traditional building materials into urban projects has swept across Vietnam.
Among Vietnam’s architecture firms that have embraced the trend, many stand out for their unwavering commitment to sustainability. Some locally-grown practices, some international firms with a presence in Vietnam – all have been flexing their creative muscle to impressive results.
G8A Architecture & Urban Planning
A self-described bridge between East and West, G8A’s teams in Hanoi, Saigon, Singapore and Geneva facilitate the East-West transfer of knowledge.
In Saigon, the start-up community will be familiar with G8A’s Jungle Station project for Toong coworking space. What was once a large printing factory is now an airy tropical environment featuring a “Green Connector”.
A vegetative spine of potted plants, large succulents, hanging creepers and aromatic herbs, it runs through the space both horizontally and vertically. Clustered around it are coworking stations and offices.
In Hanoi, a recently completed project for OpenAsia Group sets the gold standard in sustainable office development. The Bridge, as the building is known, features a sun-filtering mesh net on the entrance side and green façade cabling at the rear of the building for passive shading.
In the back of the building, an open vertical space allows the site to generate its own light and ventilation – a soft filter from the chaos of downtown Hanoi.
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Vo Trong Nghia Architects (VTN Architects)
Called a boundary-pushing visionary by The New York Times, Vo Trong Nghia founded the eponymous Vietnam-based architecture firm in 2006. Since then, Vo Trong Nghia Architects has re-introduced bamboo into urban planning, inspired a generation of young Vietnamese architects and collected quite a few industry accolades along the way.
VTN embraces a zen approach to living and working (the team famously meditates several hours a day) that stems from the founder’s personal experience. Vo Trong Nghia has been practicing meditation since 2012 and spent several years at a Buddhist monastery in Myanmar.
In his drive to develop a new type of architecture to harmonize with modern lifestyles, the architect swears by simple materials and techniques that draw on vernacular design.
In VTN’s projects, trees are used not as decoration but as an essential element of architecture. They interact with the building and serve multiple purposes: to limit flooding, filter out the sun or reduce noise pollution in high-density living environments.
H&P Architects (HPA)
Founded in 2009 by Doan Thanh Ha and Tran Ngoc Phuong, Hanoi-based H&P Architects (HPA) sees helping the disadvantaged as their civic duty. They do so through creating safe, nurturing spaces in vulnerable communities.
When working in natural disaster-hit areas, remote mountainous areas, and in disadvantaged urban and rural communities, HPA actively engages the future occupants of the buildings, whenever possible, by providing employment opportunities.
The appeal of this philosophy of a protected microcosm is evidenced in projects like the Brick Cave in Hanoi. The house stands out from the many anonymous, cookie-cutter buildings in a densely populated suburb.
Closed in on itself and yet directly interacting with its surroundings, like a living organism.
One only needs to scan the names of Tropical Space’s projects to know where the Saigon-based practice draws their inspiration from – nature.
Nguyen Hai Long and Tran Ngu Ngon, the architects behind such projects as Terra Cotta Studio and Termitary House, summed up their vision in a 2018 interview with Vietcetera: “Our greatest dream is that we will be able to inspire other people to live a more simple life, to use enough but not more than is needed. We can show this to people with our architectural designs and material choices and they can apply that to all areas of their lives.”
Tropical Space’s award-winning Long An House encapsulates this philosophy perfectly. The porous walls and the layout that harnesses the wind differently in different seasons, hollow clay bricks paving the front yard that absorb both the rain and the heat – simple solutions that work.
The “just enough” approach was also applied to internal walls. Creating a continuous space between the functional areas inside and outside the house, the architects have designed a space where the occupants can move freely throughout the house, without being confined by separate walls.
Mia Design Studio
MIA Design Studio has a knack for seamlessly incorporating plant life into buildings. A self-proclaimed admirer of the modernist movement with its emphasis on formal simplicity, MIA integrates interior and exterior into fluid spaces, paying special attention to landscape and climate conditions.
One of its recent projects, the Sky House, features cuboid planters containing trees and shrubs protruding from the elevations of a home in Saigon. The architects divided the house in half, devoting the first half to the sun, wind, water and trees, or simply empty spaces, while the other half is used for family activities.
Uniting both spaces are mature trees that grow through the cuts in the floor plates protruding into the terraces which are separated from the bedrooms by sliding glass doors.
The Chapel, a 200-sqm community project in Saigon, was named the Building of the Year in the 2014 World Architecture Festival (WAF), putting Saigon-based a21studio on the world map.
The ingenious use of recycled materials and colorful fabric won over the judges who described it as “a small project that makes a big statement” where “color and light have been deployed to put people at ease and the architect has found poetry in the mundane.”
Since then, the studio has developed a signature style that uses minimum materials to create maximum effect, merging history and modernity, always finding new ways to recycle and rethink materials and site.
Some of the studio’s projects, like The Bloom cafe on Thi Sach street in Saigon, are accessible, while others, like the wonderfully imaginative Ladeu project in Nha Trang made with granite, reinforcement bars and corrugated metal sheet, are more boundary-pushing.
Feature image source: Archdaily.com