Twenty-nine year-old Nguyen Cong Hiep has collected books on architecture ever since he was a student. With about 1,000 books, he opened a library in April, 2014. It is the first private architecture book library in the country open to the public. It specialises in architecture and other related fields, such as photography, sculpture, tourism and art history. He plans to develop his library for HCM City and Da Nang City. Do Hai Au spoke to him about the library.
Why did you open your library to the public ?
I have collected books since I was a second-year student. Architecture books are very expensive. I always prioritise buying books. Until my fourth and fifth year at college, I owned a modest collection of books, but going by what a student could spend, these were a remarkable number of books.
At that time, the collection was about 100 book titles. I began to think about sharing my books with others. I wrote a blog aiming at introducing and exchanging books. It was the first step towards establishment of the library.
Ten years ago, I tried to maintain a library with the financial means at my disposal. At present, the library has a fan page, thuviensachkientruc.
Which book is the most expensive in your library? And what is the newest book in your library?
Many of them are expensive. It is difficult to say which is the most expensive one, because the value of the books and the money they cost are quite different.
Recently, I was awarded cash worth US$5,000 by the German Tashchen Publishing. However, I received new books in exchange for cash. I had about 55 books in total, including one that was valued at $1,000, which was the costliest.
I like this publishing house. I have bought many books published by Taschen since I was a student, because of the reasonable price of these books.
In the library, I own a 12-volume book series on American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, which was sold by only one person on Amazon for $9,000. However, I bought the books at a much lower price.
Another book on American Louis J. Kahn I bought for VND5 million (over $200). The book used to be sold from $3,000 to $7,500 on Amazon or ebay.
What is the difficulty in operating the library?
I've never thought about stopping to run the library or trying to reach a record number of books. It is my natural habit. There are always a number of books that I want to have. But if I see a rare book on sale, I will not be forced to buy it at any price. How many books I can buy depends on my pocket.
During the ten past years, which book have you most regretted not buying?
I think it is a question of time. Today, there is no book that makes me crazy if I am not able to buy it. Sometimes, it takes me a year to find that the book I am looking for is on sale, but then I may not be able to buy it immediately. But there is no regret, because I think I will have another chance to own it later.
I spent six years waiting to purchase a three-volume book. One was bought in the UK by my cousin and one by her friend from the US. And the last one I received was thanks to my wife's cousin in Japan.
Do you receive support from your family to run the library?
My wife is also into architecture and she supports me a lot. But sometimes she also grumbles over my habit of spending money on buying books. I'm planning to set up such a library in HCM City and the central city of Da Nang.
I want to find a partner in HCM City who has space and already has some books. Then I will bring my books to HCM City.
There is now an architecture school in Da Nang. An architect there also has a large number of books on architecture and wants me to advise him about setting up a library there.
What is different between your library and others'?
There are libraries in the architecture colleges. The Ha Noi Architecture College has two kinds of libraries, one for the teachers and serious researchers and one for common students.
My library and the college's library were set up with different aims. The difference comes from choice. My library was set up featuring books that I bought for my individual purpose.
However, my purpose is now changing. I no longer buy books for myself. I want the books to be read by many people.
Have you lost any books since the library opened to the public?
When I opened the library, I could not think about what I would get back. Actually, it brings much more than I thought. First of all, I have more professional connections and connections with students. I get a chance to work with the students. They volunteer to help me a lot. I think the frequent contact with young students will keep me updated in the profession.
At present, the library is known among students and its fanpage is being followed by about 4,000 people. The library has other activities, such as discussions and architecture related film screenings. The talks are being held every two weeks on Sunday morning, where participants discuss architecture, planning, photography and projects. A few months ago, I co-operated with the Ha Noi Architect College's Young Architects Club to hold an exhibition at the college on well-known Japanese architect Tadao Ando. I felt happy. The first exhibition was successful.
What will you want to exchange your library for?
For what? Nothing can compensate for the library, and still it is meant for exchange. I mean both things I am saying. I'm ready to give all the books at my library, including some rare ones that I have collected over several years to other people with nothing required.
Actually, when I bought the first few books, it was because I had a desire to own them. The way I love books has now changed. I now have more and more books and want to share these with others. I love books and I want to bring them into play. I think more people should have a chance to read the books and thus the library's role will become more significant.
Which architect do you admire the most and would want to meet and talk to?
It is difficult to say about the architect I like most at this time. If you had asked me five years ago, I would have had an answer.
As I mentioned above, I organised an exhibition about Japan's Tadao Ando. He is the only architect in the world to have won four of the most prestigious architecture awards. They are Pritzker; Praemium Imperiale; Royal Gold Medal and AIA Gold Medal.
He came to Viet Nam in 2008 when I was a student. He spoke at the National Conference Centre. I was eager to bring his books that I had purchased before and ask him to sign these at the talk.
I went backstage with the intent to see him. Luckily, he was free and he was surprised to see his books in my hands. I had a very short meeting with him through an interpreter. He was enthusiastic about signing the books. It is a wonderful memory.
Which architecture prizes do you want to win in your career? And what do you dream to design?
I'm working on an architecture office set up by my friends and me and on the library.
I have never been interested in prizes. In my career, I don't aim to win prizes. At this time, I am not thinking about what I will next design in my career. It is a long road and its target is not necessarily architectural work. It can be something else. I'm on my way to find it. I think it's better if I have more useful work. It can be architecture related work or just like my library. — VNS