by Jerry ElengicalFeb 04, 2023
In the post-pandemic scenario, where the lines between living and working spaces have grown increasingly blurred, uniting these spatial typologies presents an intriguing yet sensitive topic for the future of office design. While some may prefer this arrangement to conserve time lost in daily commutes, others may not be as fond of the lack of distinction between personal and professional settings. Addressing this conundrum in its own unique manner in the Southeast Asian nation of Vietnam, The Kaleidoscope Office and Residence unites seemingly divergent programmatic functions under a sculptural roof. Designed by Ho Chi Minh City-based practice Inrestudio, the project is situated in the country's Quang Binh Province, and is part of a factory development in a remote location, blessed with scenic vistas of both the East Vietnam Sea and the forested, hilly terrain of Central Vietnam. Merging workspaces that function in tandem with living quarters inside a dodecagonal form, it attempts to provide a refuge from the region's severe, tropical climate and simultaneously develop a dialogue between users and nature.
Speaking to STIR, Kosuke Nishijima, Director of Inrestudio explains: “The client is a Vietnamese citizen who was born in the province and owns a company that mines titanium sand from the coast. Since he decided to build a new factory to refine the material, hoping to transform it into a leading company in the region, he asked us to design a functional and symbolic building for the development’s administrative functions. His request accounted for an office and residence - as the factory is located in a remote area, 90 minutes away from the province’s capital city. This facet of the project was deemed necessary because the factory managers needed to stay near the complex as most of the staff had been hired from towns in the vicinity.”
Appearing resolute within its viridescent surroundings, the building’s massive dodecagonal form is crowned by a conical roof canopy whose profile has been derived from that of a traditional farmer’s hat - locally known as nón lá. Below, as a means to facilitate cross ventilation in the unforgiving climate, the structure’s faces alternate between walls that feature customised perforated blocks, open terraces, and glazing, with the latter primarily concentrated on the upper levels, shaded by the canopy’s deep eaves. This configuration frames views of the context, which ‘kaleidoscopically’ morphs over time in accordance with diurnal and seasonal changes. Furthermore, the depth of the roof overhangs enables the building’s windows to remain open during the rains. Climatic design measures have moulded much of the monolithic structure’s form and aesthetic features while addressing the effects of harsh local weather phenomena - which include typhoons and floods during the rainy season alongside hot winds during the dry season.
Another example is the use of perforated blocks, which is quite common in Vietnamese architecture - both for their ability to furnish good cross-ventilation and the enticing patterns of light they produce within building interiors. The architects' use of this building method effectively mobilises traditional architectural elements for contextually responsive design. Fabricated with exaggerated proportions that better reflect the grandeur of the project's setting, the building's latticed exterior features two modules of fibre-reinforced concrete blocks with unique patterns which collectively generate the elaborate motifs seen as part of the façade design.
Additionally, the roof structure topping it is also double-layered, with a cavity between the conical upper section and flat lower one, that provides effective insulation from heat gain. As Nishijima states, “The idea of creating the double roof came up after a comment from the client. When we designed a single-layered roof and presented a model to the client, it was deemed too flat as we shaped it from an interior perspective. We then proposed the double roof to reconcile the outside to look sharper like a hill and reduce the exorbitant ceiling height. Subsequently, we began to consider how to make use of this double roof as a structural and passive design element, with the assistance of 3D software and a physical model to bridge communication between architects, structural designers, MEP engineers, and contractors.” Additional perforations in both layers allow trees planted throughout the structure’s gardens to rise up towards the open sky.
Regarding the unique division of the internal program, Nishijima mentions, “In the countryside, when considering a farmer's life, for instance, living and working are not contrasting functions but rather quite continuous modes in people's lives. The interiors and exteriors of buildings are similarly continuous compared to more urban scenarios. So, our approach to designing this project looked into how we could minimise breaks in the continuity between the living and workspaces. We utilised V-shaped walls that open up toward the outside to create divisions between public and private functions, but not between living and working functions. This design provides all rooms with contact to the natural world outside in a manner that intrudes minimally yet is enough to organise the whole space.”
The building's program is divided into seven triangular modules partitioned by solid walls that split the 12-sided layout into private and public areas. Arranged at right angles to the edges of the roof, the walls enclose private areas that include living quarters, office spaces, a board room, a conference hall, and a garden on the first floor. Interstitial voids between these modules house circulation spaces, terraces, and common areas. A similar layout is followed on the second floor, this time centred around a high-ceilinged open office, with the added program areas of private offices and a director's room placed along its edges. Finally, spiral staircases occupy two of the voids along the building's edges, adding an element of fluidity to the otherwise strong geometric design language.
On the climate control measures through the structure’s extent, Nishijima shares, “There were two different methods of passive design used for the two types of space in the building. Public spaces have glass façades with deep eaves to cut sunlight and rain, as well as high ceilings and a double roof to maintain indoor thermal comfort. In the private spaces, each room has a fibre-reinforced concrete block screen in front of an outer wall, along with a tree pod with deep soil on the rooftop to reduce heat gain from above.” Dramatic spatial contraction and expansion are seen throughout the building's interior, from the more enclosed private spaces to open terraces overlooking the hills and sea. Concrete is the predominant material throughout the interior design, imparting a natural touch to the building’s cavernous halls. To complement this, restraint has been exercised in the internal lighting design, to both avoid polluting the natural landscape and make the residential wings of the structure feel more like home.
Realised over a five-year period with the aid of both highly skilled workers from Saigon and less experienced ones from neighbouring communities, the project is an apt demonstration of the potential of rural construction and programmatic innovation in trying conditions. In conclusion, Nishijima notes: “It is said that the climate and culture of Central Vietnam are different from those of South Vietnam where we live. There is little to no architectural formula specific to the locality in the countryside of Vietnam, meaning we are the ones who have to create it through our projects. All passive design methods we applied, in this case, are common in tropical countries, but we are still yet to ascertain their finer details. By monitoring how our client uses this project we hope to learn more in the future. We can surely say that this project was a challenge to local construction, as a new pedigree of building in the countryside, which inspired pride in the minds of those who were engaged in bringing this structure to life.”
Name: The Kaleidoscope
Location: Quang Binh, Vietnam
Area: 960 sqm
Client: Hoang Long Mineral JSC
Lead Architect: Kosuke Nishijima
Design Team: Nguyen Quynh Han, Vo Hanh Nhan
Window Consultant: YKK AP
Lighting Consultant: nanoHome
Construction: Hoang My SG