As a top graduate of the Department of Architecture from Tokyo University who has had many opportunities to work with top-notch architects around the world, Massaaki Iwamoto chose Viet Nam as the place to start his career in 2011. He explains his choice to Nhat Le.
Born in 1982 in Tokyo, Masaaki Iwamoto graduated from Tokyo University and did his MA from Stuttgart University in Germany, in 2007. After working in Tokyo for a while, he arrived in Viet Nam to work for Vo Trong Nghia Architects [Company] as a collaborator and Designing Director. Several of his projects have won international architecture prizes.
Inner Sanctum: Why did you leave an ideal environment for architecture like Japan for a strange country like Viet Nam?
I have always been keen on learning. I used to learn many things at the university, while working at several Japanese and German's architectural offices.
Japan "produces" many talented architects. However, there are not many opportunities for them. In Viet Nam, even young architects can approach huge projects of various kinds. Moreover, I wanted to discover this new land - strange, but very attractive.
Inner Sanctum: How did you become a member of Vo Trong Nghia Architects?
Architect Vo Trong Nghia contacted me himself. He used to study at Tokyo University with me, so we know each other.
Before that, when I visited Viet Nam in 2008, I found myself falling in love with Ho Chi Minh City, a city of dynamic activities, hospitable people and delicious food. I have also found many differences in Viet Nam's architecture, though I have known many other beautiful buildings in Japan and Germany.
What I find most enjoyable is working for Nghia's office. I know that he has a dream of inviting about 50 excellent architects from around the world to get trained on green projects, so that they themselves can open their own architectural offices here later. Even such a talented architect like Nghia is not afraid of competition. He also makes foreign architects promise that they will only open offices in Viet Nam after getting experience in green architecture. This will ensure an expansion of green buildings and young architects on the spot. It also offers opportunities for invited architects to create and contribute to the development of that field in Viet Nam. I thought that was an interesting invitation, so I accepted.
Inner Sanctum: What kind of buildings concerned you the most on your arrival in Viet Nam? What can you say about the architectures in those places?
I like several buildings built during the period of French domination, particularly the Notre Dame Cathedral in HCM City and ancient houses in Hoi An Old Town in the central province of Quang Nam. However, Viet Nam is seen to be developing rapidly, but lacks its own style. I could see many similar looking buildings, which is not good at all. Likewise, Japan lacks unique architectural buildings, which, however, is hard to change because there are too many buildings. The demand for building and designing new structures is rising along with the development of Viet Nam.
Broadly speaking, big Asian cities gradually develop buildings of similar structures. Along with it is the issue of population development in the urban area. As a follow-up country, Viet Nam has the advantage of drawing experiences so that it can create both modern and unique architectural features.
Inner Sanctum: How many projects have you worked on so far in HCM City?
I have participated in about 15 projects, in which I work as designing director and manager of projects in HCM City, Thailand, China and Panama. We work in teams for all projects, except for two or three that I have myself designed.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us about Samui Resort in Thailand, where the architecture has been directly designed by you?
It is a building made of bamboo, but unlike others in Viet Nam. I have studied and developed geometric issues to create simple, modern but striking cubes. It would be much easier to use concrete instead. Using bamboo to create a curved cube is very difficult. In addition, the bamboo has to be processed so that the age of the building can be prolonged up to 25 years. Lakes are also used to cool the surroundings of the building. While designing, I tried to convey the renovation as well as the geometric experiment. Though it was not my intention the roots of the bungalows look like high heels when they are viewed from afar.
Inner Sanctum: What do you think about your Vietnamese teammates?
Each architect has a different way of thinking and has different background knowledge. Vietnamese architects have very creative ideas, which can be promoted in the future. I might receive better education in Tokyo. If we make a comparison, Japanese architects could create more precise structures while Vietnamese counterparts could design buildings relevant to Viet Nam's characters to create the differences. Many projects are designed solely by the Vietnamese and contain many unique features. There are many buildings built in harmony with nature and their local traits, which are the advantages of Viet Nam's architecture that need studying and developing.
Inner Sanctum: Many structures designed by Nghia and his teammates that include you, have won international prizes. However, there are rumours that behind Nghia's team are Japanese architects. Could you clarify that?
Nghia has utilised various kinds of materials for green buildings, from wood, stone, concrete to bamboo. His company has received too many orders from all over the world. That is the most surprising fact in the context of a global economic crisis. I greatly admire his professional knowledge, as well as methodical training of his teams of talented Vietnamese architects.
I have learnt a lot from Nghia. Of course, we have together got over the unavoidable mistakes while working in groups, after he pointed them out. The working style of our company is to function in groups, exchange ideas and choose the best one. His idea is generally chosen following its widespread appeal. The company is oriented towards buildings with better technical details, skills and remote project management.
Personally, I'm very interested in many Nghia's buildings, especially the Bamboo Wings project in Dai Lai Resort in the northern province of Vinh Phuc. In terms of its structure, it has a very dynamic but simple architecture, which is combined with the scene of surrounding lakes, creating a tranquil beauty about the whole space.
Another favourite project of mine is Farming Kindergarten in the southern province of Dong Nai. Though I just participated in the last stage of the project, I was really happy when I got the chance to contribute. The idea is obvious and impressive. Just one single curve can create two interesting spaces: the playground and classes for children. — VNS