by Jerry ElengicalMar 15, 2023
The first images that usually arise when thinking of the dedicated base of operations for an architectural firm majorly spans from cold, gypsum-ceilinged corporate offices wrapped in walls of tinted or clear glass, to dingy, dimly lit basements and congested compounds whose confines are enough to induce claustrophobic anxieties in even the most hardened individuals. But between these two extremes in scale and opulence, there is a definite middle ground, one that straddles the comfort of the former and the potential (albeit sometimes undesired) intimacy of the other, offering up spaces that nurture creativity, free-thinking, and collaboration instead of stifling them.
Simultaneously, the clearing up of urban greenery to make way for more office space and other kinds of infrastructure has long been confirmed as a reason for the emergence of urban heat islands, and reduced air quality in major cities worldwide. Vietnam, a nation whose architectural canon is as complex as it is varied, boasts a built environment bearing influences that stretch back from French colonial architecture to current takes on tropical modernism, and contemporary reinterpretations of vernacular architecture. With all this knowledge ingrained in the cityscapes, they are shaping, Vietnamese architects now making full use of each and every design approach they are privy to as means of addressing the immense challenge their homeland now faces—that of mitigating the severe climatic changes it is forecasted to experience as a consequence of the deforestation of its once flourishing tropical landscapes.
“Urban Farming Office, is an effort to change this situation. The aim of the project is to return green space to the city and promote safe food production,” explains the team at VTN Architects. The project in question is the firm’s own office, set within an emerging locale in the rapidly morphing urban landscape of the nation’s capital, Ho Chi Minh City. A veritable vertical forest rising between the colonial and modern blocks which constitute the city’s urban grain, the six-storey office building has a trapezoidal footprint dressed in countless planter boxes which infuse an explosive burst of green hues amid the greys, whites, blacks, browns, and blues of the city. While the concept of developing façade designs lined with vegetation is nothing new—given the countless architects such as Stefano Boeri or WOHA who have nigh on trademarked this approach—the purpose and degree of thought with which it is implemented is a deciding factor in the capacity of such biophilic architecture to positively impact urban ecosystems.
On this note, VTN Architects’ use of this regreening method is nothing new even in the practice’s own body of work, where projects such as the Chicland Hotel, Bat Trang House, House for Trees, or the famous Halong Villa make use of it to great effect. Hence, in a way, opting for this approach is not exactly an experiment for the Vietnamese architecture firm, which is led by acclaimed architect Vo Trong Nghia. Instead, this project constitutes the denouement of their architectural philosophy, which has been crystallised into a new cutting-edge creative space that still retains the same humility and reverence for nature observed in all their architecture.
Along with the primary goal of bringing greenery back to urban edifices, VTN Architects’ vision for the Urban Farming Office also encompasses the domain of space-efficient food production in cities through vertical urban farming. Currently, the planters across the building’s exterior host diverse species of local plants, however, there is always scope for them to function as vessels for crop production instead, creating self-sustaining agricultural ecosystems that can kill two birds with one stone. This assembly of planters is composed of a simple reinforced concrete base structure with steel supports, which are used to suspend the modular planter boxes at varying distances from one another in accordance with how they respond to annual variations in daylight within the region.
In the words of the design team: “The vertical farm creates a comfortable microclimate throughout the building. Combined with glazing, the vegetation filters direct sunlight and purifies air. It is irrigated with stored rainwater and cooled through evaporation. Conversely, the northern wall is relatively solid for future extension, with small openings to enhance cross ventilation. It is a double-layered brick wall with an air layer inside for better insulation. All of these contribute to reducing the use of air conditioning inside the structure.”
“Planter boxes are replaceable, therefore they can be flexibly arranged in accordance with the height and growing conditions of plants, to provide sufficient sunlight to each species. Together with a roof garden and the ground-level landscape design, the system accounts for a green ratio of up to 190% for the site area, which is equivalent to 1.1 tons of harvest,” added the architects. The alternation between the weighty opacity of the matte concrete planters, which protrude or recede from view, and the rough, layered textures of the plants they host, provides the necessary motion to vivify the building’s faces, transforming what could have been a run-of-the-mill envelope into a living, breathing entity that acts as a ‘lung’ for the street it inhabits.
By contrast, the interior of the office design is almost monastic in its atmosphere, featuring undecorated surfaces of bare concrete, with the grid of the structural design revealed for all to see. This sense of utilitarianism is balanced by a dynamic ensemble of solids and voids, which take the concept of an open office layout to a whole new level. While each floor does cater to a specific function, hosting workspaces, meeting rooms, and other program areas, the entire volume effectively acts as a singular atrium, a continuous space with mezzanines and terraces along its periphery. Free of any real partitions, save for the differences in levels themselves, the exposed materiality of these spaces does bear hints of brutalist architecture, where the almost ‘stern’ geometric design language followed possesses little in terms of embellishment, ornament, textural variation, or chromatic flourishes. This allows users to project their own personalities onto the blank canvas it provides.
Commencing with the basement level, which contains service spaces, the main program begins to unfold on the ground floor with workspaces arranged in an open plan, with an enclosed kitchen and pantry next to the circulation core featuring a staircase and lift on the building’s western edge. At the far end of this level is another concrete staircase, with a first flight that is considerably wider in its rise, which also doubles as an informal seating space for users to take a breather or socialise. The second flight of this staircase design, realised with a much lighter steel frame, is only half the width of the flight beneath it, denoting the point where the staircase transitions from a functional space to a pure circulation element.
Moving up along the building’s levels, the two floors above alternate between a meeting room and one dedicated solely to workspaces. A rectangular void, punched into the ceiling of the meeting room level, opens it up to the levels above, where similar voids, aligned in a staggered fashion, connect each segment of the structure to resemble an atrium of sorts. Unpretentious wooden furniture and desks dot these spaces, testifying to the modest and honest feel of the firm’s work, now reflected in their own headquarters. Most of the remaining floors are devoted to workspaces, until the fifth and sixth floors which accommodate multipurpose areas and courtyards. Again, there is very little to be seen in terms of decoration on any of the floors, where light flooding in through the building’s glass walls, filtered through the greens garnishing the planters screening them, generates the necessary tension, drama, and movement in the interior design. Privacy inside the building’s envelope is also secured by the ‘green screen’ shading the structure, which simultaneously allows inhabitants to peer through and observe the streetscape below from certain vantage points.
Whereas most buildings seek to become one with the landscape, Urban Farming Office welcomes the landscape onto its own face, in a shift towards verticality that will soon become more of a norm in cities globally. In embodying the crystallisation of the firm’s philosophy and that of its founder, Urban Farming Office goes beyond the requirements of a simple office design, striving to give back to the city that it and its creators call home.
Name: Urban Farming Office
Location: 39A Ta Hien, Quarter 1, Thanh My Loi Ward, Thu Duc city, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Site Area: 300 sqm
Gross Floor Area: 1,386 sqm
Year of Completion: 2022
Client: VTN Architects (Vo Trong Nghia Architects)
Architect: VTN Architects (Vo Trong Nghia Architects)
Principal Architect: Vo Trong Nghia
Design Team: Nobuhiro Inudo, Tran Vo Kien, Le Viet Minh Quoc, Nguyen Tat Dat
- Biophilic Architecture
- Biophilic Design
- Concrete Architecture
- Contemporary Architecture
- Contextual Design
- Courtyard Architecture
- Exposed Concrete
- Facade Design
- Geometric Design
- Ho Chi Minh City
- Interior Design
- Landscape Architecture
- Landscape Design
- office architecture
- Office Buildings
- Office Design
- Staircase Design
- Tropical Modernism
- urban farming
- Vietnamese Architect
- Vietnamese Architecture