VTN Architects’ Urban Farming Office is a creative eden wrapped in a biophilic facade
by Jerry ElengicalFeb 04, 2023
•make your fridays matter with a well-read weekend
by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Mar 15, 2023
Experience centres are environments for brands and organisations to present enticing impressions of themselves to both lay people and prospective clients alike. The integration of commercial and retail spaces as well as offices and recreational zones serves to enhance the multifaceted identities of these spaces, allowing them to cater to a broader user group beyond its official purpose. Such spaces are also breeding grounds for experiments in combining multiple typologies, engendering new paradigms on how mixed-use architecture can create urban landmarks that serve their contexts in multiple ways.
A similar story surrounds the recently completed De La Sól / Shadow by The Lab Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Described by its designers as a “mixed concept space” that blends a plethora of different functions within the renovated remains of a historic villa that has persisted for over a century, the project is part exhibition space and café, part experience centre, and part office building. This blend of almost contradictory typologies was commissioned by Canadian financial services company Sun Life, who were the clients behind the project. Devised as a recreational and commercial venue in a packed district of the national capital, the complex juxtaposes the older architectural language of its parent structure, rendered in weathered brick, with a newer, cleaner, and more machined aesthetic in lustrous metallic finishes to echo the spiritual conflict in its program.
Growth, an idea that is central to both Sun Life’s operations, and the spirit of Ho Chi Minh City, has seen rampant urban development and modernisation since the reunification of Vietnam. Hence, the vocabulary that has been realised in the final structure is one of evolution, of expansion, of modernity rising from heritage. The majority of the villa’s original façade design has been left unaltered, and certain segments have been exposed to reveal the history etched into each brick used to assemble it. The two-storey metallic addition to this shell takes form firstly as a swirling loop staircase in reflective steel that occupies the centre of the building's courtyard space, an eye-catching element that engages with all who lay eyes on it.
Boxed in by buildings on both its sides, the complex’s frontage has been left quite open, with considerable use of glass to permit users to look inwards and gaze at the crowds flocking to the venue. As part of the courtyard design, blooming kinetic sculptures dot the space, their rotating canopies rising to virtually the full height of the structure, and their polished metal canopies providing shade while acting as ornamental flourishes which offer a visual metaphor for the growth of the development, as well as the company as a whole. Reminiscent of a sleek, artificial tree line along the front of the complex, these elements have been interspersed between outdoor seating spaces in front of the project's hospitality design arm, while also screening the spiral staircase.
Discovering the structure’s own history was a core aspect of the adaptive reuse project as per the architects, where stripping away layers of paint, finishes, and plaster applied over the years, revealed the different types of bricks used in each successive refurbishment of the building. Etched into each of these construction members are decades of changes the building has undergone, evidence of each successive life it has experienced along with the growth of the city as a whole. Through this process, the purpose of the building as a proverbial "organ" feeding the larger "organism" of the city comes to light.
Placed against the stainless steel additions, the design exhibits a clash between the old and new, earthy and artificial, and a host of other symbolic comparisons that can be conjured up to explain this dichotomy in its architectural expression. Within the courtyard, the loop staircase doubles as a shading device, where a number of dining tables are sheltered underneath its spiralling form. The use of steel here is also a measure against Vietnam’s warm and humid climate, where its durability will aid in weathering even the most extreme fluctuations in external conditions. Dappled reflections in varicoloured tones dance across the surface of the staircase design, creating a cacophonic flourish of colour and texture by absorbing the hues of the city. At various points across its rise, users can take in a host of distinct views of the development as well as the urban locale it rests in.
In addition to the brickwork, the Vietnamese architects kept the wooden beams lining the building’s ceilings, observable in many interior areas where they have been used to suspend fans and lighting design elements. Rust coloured steel sections form a grid that frames space throughout the restaurant, extending to the ceiling. Glass walls line the two sides of this space, allowing light to permeate its every nook. The interior design is sparse, pairing white terrazzo floors with neutral-coloured furniture. Moving away from the entrance, the far end of this space is a bar with a metal counter, whose reflective sheen takes on the colours of the structural design members. The floor above this is home to the exhibition space which can be freely repurposed to accommodate multiple functions. Again, this volume is wrapped in glass for ample daylight to enter its expanse.
On the other side of the plot, behind the staircase, the second wing of the structure is home to a number of flexible office designs and meeting rooms, all exhibiting a similar play between an aged brick enclosure and polished steel fittings. The layering in the brick walls becomes even more evident in the block’s interior, where construction members of varying sizes, textures, and orientations can be observed in great detail, paired with a darker terrazzo floor finish. Alternatively, the building’s exterior is dressed in a white plaster finish, evoking the image of a traditional colonial bungalow.
The contradictions in function, form, materiality, and aesthetic, both here and throughout the remainder of the project are pivotal to the architects’ use of juxtaposition to highlight conflict, resulting in a building that embodies the ideal of growth, rebirth, and reinvention—where the latter cannot occur without the former. Reflected in its multidimensional usage in its context, De La Sól / Shadow might be part of the new breed of commercial mixed-use complexes that rise to landmarks in their own unique way.
Name: Sunlife Flagship / De La Sól / Shadow
Location: 244 Pasteur street, Ward 6, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Area: 1500 sqm
Architect: The Lab Saigon
Design Team: Hung Le, Tram Dang
Contractor: DB Plus Creative Interior
Kinetic Sculptures: Vietnam Project Architecture Interior, RaD team from The Lab Saigon
Metalwork: Zachary Buehner
Furniture: District Eight, Zero Furniture
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