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Culture Vulture (05-11-2014)

Update: November, 05/2014 - 08:20
The design for a community house in HCM City's Binh Chanh District.

Vietnamese architect Nguyen Hoa Hiep's design for a community house in HCM City's Binh Chanh District recently won the Building of the Year prize, the most important award at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore.

He talks to Culture Vulture about the design and his philosophy.

Could you tell me more about the design that earned you the Building of the Year award?

The building, named The Chapel, is a community space in a new urban ward on the outskirts of HCM City. As the result of quick development, the area is lacking communal centres, therefore, we designed the Chapel as a common place for people, especially youth.

They can use it to participate in activities such as conferences, weddings, exhibitions or enjoying a light coffee and snack.

We used many old materials from previous projects, including steel frames, metal sheets and timber. The building was built on 10x20m of land. By using steel as the main structural material, the construction period was shortened - and costs cut as well.

The frame of the gateway is formed from two 40×80cm steel columns with 40x40cm steel braces connected to white painted metal sheets. From a distance, the building looks like a white chapel.

However, as the available steel was insufficient, extra columns and beams were used to stabilise the entire building. A 90x90cm, tree-shaped steel column with is the only structural material that appears inside the Chapel. This gives an aesthetic look to the interior and saves space on the ground for a variety of activities.

Inside, the Chapel is a single open space painted pure white. The multi-layer curtains add some colour to the space and soften the coldness of the metal.

Rustic timber is used for the floor and furniture – and in the gardens around the building.

The Chapel is a community space for youth in a new urban area. We spent total of 2.5 months to create the building.

I think the reason the jury gave the award to The Chapel was because of its benefit to community and the fact that it is mostly made from second-hand materials.

What's your principle in designing?

I set up a studio with four other architects five years ago. I have no main principles about creating. I think, if I put forward any principle or discipline, I'll have to follow it and sometimes I will get stuck and no longer able to create.

Our studio has designed dozens of buildings mainly in the south of Viet Nam.

Buildings that have won international awards for Vietnamese architects, such as Vo Trong Nghia, use simple materials like bamboo and natural factors like water and sunlight. Do you think these are advantages for Vietnamese architects?

I don't think so. Architects from other countries can use these factors also. Bamboo is also available in other countries. I respect architect Vo Trong Nghia as he was among the first architects in Viet Nam to join international architectural events and win prizes.

What do you think about Vietnamese architects compared with their colleagues overseas?

I don't think it's a good idea to compare. I don't understand all of them so I cannot comment. The number of Vietnamese architects joining the competitions is small and they cannot represent all architects in Viet Nam. Moreover, the number of prizes won by Vietnamese architects is also small in comparison with prizes won by architects from other countries.

Our studio, like other Vietnamese companies joining international competitions and festivals, wants to try at international environment and to learn from overseas colleagues rather than expecting prizes. — VNS

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