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One of Saigon’s coolest homes? We think so

Oh, and the designer is a world-renowned award-winner – but he doesn’t like to talk about that

Established in 2009, Ho Chi Minh City-based a21studio has earned global acclaim in a relatively short space of time. The firm picked up World Building of the Year 2014 at last year’s World Architecture Fair for its community space, The Chapel, located on the outskirts of the Vietnam’s largest city.

We recently caught up with lead architect Toan Nghiem to discuss a21studio’s first project, M11 House, how the firm’s design philosophy has evolved and the drawbacks of newfound industry fame.

Tell us a little about your background and the inception of a21 studio.

a21studio was established in 2009 by a group of architects who wanted to design spaces in new ways. But I don’t really want to dwell on our personal history, as I believe an architecture firm should be judged on its buildings, not its background.

Saigon

“Most people, when talking to us, usually just want to know how we feel about the award and what it is going bring to us. Seriously, I don’t care about the award any more.”

What factors do you think were behind last year’s success and what have been the benefits of gaining this global recognition?

We’ve always believed that architecture exists only in the correct context and surroundings and needs to relate to culture and the environment. Still, it doesn’t really make sense for us to simply introduce vintage or antique elements against a backdrop of modern life. Instead, we decided to transform traditional materials and breathe the spirit of tradition into new things, and this was the philosophy behind The Chapel. Winning the World Building of the Year 2014 award is obviously a great encouragement for what we have done, and since then we have had more opportunities to meet and talk to different people from around the world.

What have you discussed?

Most people, when talking to us, usually just want to know how we feel about the award and what it is going bring to us. Seriously, I don’t care about the award any more. Winning it is neither a burden nor a blessing. Although it motivates us to constantly improve, we prefer talking about the future projects.

Okay, so what else are you currently working on, and do you have any plans to embark on projects further afield?

We are currently working on different types of projects such as resort, residential, hotels and even religious buildings. We all want to challenge ourselves in new areas.

To what extent are the ideas and design concepts of The Chapel evident in other projects, such as M11 House?

There has been a long process of evolution from M11house, which was our first project, through to The Chapel. In each case, we search for new aspects that we can introduce. I’d say that the only theme expressed in all of our projects is the concept of exploring traditional values in different ways.

“We only pay attention to our projects. And we also don’t try to put Vietnamese architects on the global map.”

What was the inspiration for M11 House what are your favourite features?

The client, as a small family, wanted to have a tranquil, urban retreat to come home to after a long day at work. Therefore, the courtyard is an integral part of the property, utilising top lights and trees, together with natural materials such as wood and stone. To integrate with nature, we also brought the garden into the home, merging it with the design. The area where the principal tree is planted almost resembles another room. The confined space it occupies means that the sound of its leaves is captured between the walls, resonating and bringing back the memories of the client’s hometown. This is undoubtedly my favourite feature of the project. All of these aspects bring a harmony to the space.

What three words would you use to describe the design of the project?

Calm, comfortable and clean.

master bedroom

What are your thoughts on the architecture scene in Ho Chi Minh City and to what extent do you think a21 Studio will put Vietnamese architects on the global map?

We don’t really think about the architecture scene here in Ho Chi Minh City; we only pay attention to our projects. And we also don’t try to put Vietnamese architects on the global map.

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