Vietnamese architect greening world, one house at a time

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Fame hasn't distracted architect Vo Trong Nghia from his goal of bringing sustainable designs to the world


Photo: Dezeen
Dozens of planters make up the front of a house in Ho Chi Minh City designed by Vo Trong Nghia and his Japanese partners

A design by a Vietnamese architect attempting to green the world with environmentally-friendly structures has been named a Building of the Year by ArchDaily, an architecture magazine in the US.

The building is a house designed by Vo Trong Nghia and his Japanese partners that has been praised for saving energy with its use of natural ventilation and sunlight during the day.

Last year the house was recognized as the best house at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore. It has also won many other awards earlier.

Nghia himself has had a variety of awards and recognition under his belt. He was praised as one of ten most innovative worldwide architects by the US magazine Architectural Record last year.

Meanwhile, his company, Vo Trong Nghia Architects, was listed one of the top 21 architectural firms of the 21st century that same year by World Architecture News.

But fame has not let Nghia forget his ultimate goal of making environmentally-friendly designs available to everyone for prices even the poor can afford. 

"Humans nowadays are more aware about the prices of development, so it is necessary to correct our mistakes, especially what we have done to nature," Nghia said.

Late last year, Nghia and his partners introduced lightweight-structured houses they built at a cost of US$3,200 each in an effort to tackle housing issues for low-incomers in Vietnam.

The prototype houses, as small as 18 square meters, are designed with layered walls of corrugated polycarbonate and bamboo. They are able to make use of natural resources like solar energy, and are also equipped with natural ventilation systems and rainwater harvesting facilities.

Moreover, the designs allow for adjustments to fit future family expansions and flexible interior arrangements.

Speaking to international architecture and design magazine Dezeen, a representative from Nghia's company said they began the project as voluntary work because many poor Vietnamese families are struggling to live in houses smaller than ten square meters.

The company plans to make the houses even more affordable like utilizing cheap local materials such as coconut leaves for walls or roof in the future.

According to Nghia, he planned to "export" green buildings to the world, starting with Japan and Mexico.

He also planned to gather outstanding architects and fresh graduates across the world to help him "multiply" green works globally.

But, he is reserved about the reach of his pet project. 

"For me, to build green buildings is like practicing religion. I practice it, or contribute green works to society, but how many I will be able to build depends on fate."

Out with the old, in with the new

In the past, bamboo was Nghia's trademark and it was bamboo designs that first brought him recognition and accolades.

He won several awards for a café in the southern province of Binh Duong built almost entirely of bamboo that uses a central pond as a natural air conditioner

He also presented his Vietnamese Bamboo Pavilion design at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, and his open-air Hill Restaurant, also entirely made from bamboo, in Mexico.

But Nghia said he has already done what he needs to do with bamboo, and he doesn't talk about it anymore.

Instead, he is focusing on green buildings made of concrete and stone.

Nghia has recently finished the design of a 200-square-meter house in HCMC that he says is one of his favorites, along with the Wind and Water Café in Binh Duong Province.

The house is built in the shape of five tree pots, while a century-old tree will provide shade with hanging roots and leaves.

Nghia said he plans to use a concreting technique totally new to Vietnam which he promised would present a harmony between concrete and greenery.

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