The VAC Library in Hanoi brings together children, plants and animals
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The VAC Library in Hanoi brings together children, plants and animals

Vietnam-based Farming Architects built an open air library in a villa, with an impressive aquaponics system, to teach kids about sustainable food production.

by Zohra Khan Aug 08, 2019

Hanoi-based Farming Architects has created an intuitive landscape in the form of a library that doubles up as an urban farm. The project, called VAC Library, is inspired from the deep-rooted lifestyle of the Vietnamese who love tending to farming and agricultural activities at their homes and neighbourhoods. Located on the garden of a villa in an urban area of Hanoi, the project invited kids from nearby areas to experience the joy of reading, while simultaneously gaining knowledge about recycling, reusing, and the lost practice of ‘living close to nature’.

The 55 sqm space features a modular wooden grid next to a pond with the brightly coloured and Vietnam’s favourite, Koi fishes. A series of stone steps connect the built landscape to the water body. The structure, like a DIY assemblage, also works as a space organiser with flexible applications that include seating, storage, lighting and a solar panel integrated roof.

  • The climbing frame sits next to a pond which is crossed via a series of stone steps | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    The climbing frame sits next to a pond which is crossed via a series of stone steps Image Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung
  • The climbing frame sits next to a pond which is crossed via a series of stone steps | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    The climbing frame sits next to a pond which is crossed via a series of stone steps Image Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung

Designed by architect An Viet Dung, the project name is an acronym for Vietnamese phrase - Vuon (garden) Ao (Pond) Chuong (Cage). The core feature for VAC’s design is the use of aquaponics, a technique which combines conventional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals) and hydroponics (cultivating plants in water), to make up an urban farm hybrid.

The process follows a continuous cyclic system where waste water from the pond is fed to the potted plants that are sporadically placed on the climbing frame. Providing nutrients for them to grow, this water gets purified by the plants, and is re-circulated back to the pond via means of pumps that run on solar power.

In addition to this, a small space at the rear end of the modular assemblage has been dedicated to hens. These farm animals contribute to the ecosystem through the process of laying eggs and adding fresh food to the collective organic produce.

  • Farming Architects uses traditional aquaponics to create an endearing landscape for children | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    Farming Architects uses traditional aquaponics to create an endearing landscape for children Image Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung
  • Thriving greens at the VAC Library| VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    Thriving greens at the VAC Library Image Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung
  • Hens contribute to the ecology by providing eggs | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    Hens contribute to the ecology by providing eggs Image Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung

The studio created the traditional VAC model in a contemporary vein by using wooden beams as the main material. Allowing for variations and uniqueness of design, the use of light modular grid system, “Gives the freedom to create flexible and adaptable structures that can be easily implemented to different sites…where different features, ranging from lighting to planted boxes can be easily implemented, giving a wide range of customisation to suit people’s needs,” said Dung. “We wish the idea of these blocks could spread throughout the city and bring practical meaning to users.” he added.

The built space also offers varied seating choices. The gap between the criss-cross frames let children climb to take their seats. A quaint little stone plaza slightly raised above the ground sits at the heart of the space while fixed concrete seating supporting the bottom of the wooden grid surrounds it.

  • A quaint little stone plaza sits at the heart of the wooden grid | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    A quaint little stone plaza sits at the heart of the structure Image Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung
  • : More than anything, children love climbing the wooden beams | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    More than anything, children love climbing the wooden beams Image Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung
  • Slotted seating spaces within the climbing frame | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    Slotted seating spaces within the climbing frame Image Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung

In the upper reaches of the structure, lighting has been integrated in tune with the overarching design of the project. During the day, the cubes of semi-transparent acrylic visually merge with the concrete planters, and as dusk approaches, they put up a warm and ambient glow.

It is a sight to cherish as children sit quietly to read their favourite book, with the silence momentarily interrupted by the clucking of hens perched on the beams or the movement of fishes in water.

  • Cubes of acrylic exude a warm and ambient glow at night | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    Cubes of acrylic exude a warm and ambient glow at night Image Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung
  • During the day, lighting cubes seamlessly merge with the existing matrix| VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    During the day, lighting cubes seamlessly merge with the existing matrixImage Credit: Nguyen Thai Thạch, An Viet Dung

Dung’s approach to VAC Library goes in contrast to the unorganised aquaponics common in houses across cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh. The technique gained prevalence over the recent years owing to the reports of rising contamination in food. Vietnamese (like true DIY enthusiasts) took matter in their own hands and started, in whichever capacity they could, growing organic produce. Within their mostly small, narrow apartments, they clear out their terraces, backyards, and sometimes incomprehensibly small balconies to provide space to this system, which is often laid in a disorderly layout with little or no heed to the aesthetics.

VAC Library by Farming Architects has been an attempt to ingeniously integrate the VAC model with landscape architecture, offering a distinctive aesthetic, an environmentally sustainable product, and a one-of-its-kind experience.

  • Conceptual diagram | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    Conceptual diagram Image Credit: Courtesy of Farming Architects
  • Exploded axonometric explaining the design components of VAC Library | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    Exploded axonometric explaining the design components of VAC Library Image Credit: Courtesy of Farming Architects
  • Layout Plan and Sections | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    Layout Plan and Sections Image Credit: Courtesy of Farming Architects
  • Cubes of acrylic exudes a warm and ambient glow at night | VAC Library | Farming Architects | STIR
    Architect An Viet Dung at his studio in Hanoi Image Credit: Courtesy of Farming Architects

Project Details

Name of project: VAC Library
Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
Type of project: Landscape
Area: 55 sqm
Architect: Farming Architects
Design Team: An Viet Dung, Hoang Long Giang, Phạm Ngọc Linh, Nguyen Hong Quan, Andrea Scalco
Completion: 2018

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than two years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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