Saigon House in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) is a “sanctuary” where a21studio has recreated and preserved the spirit of Saigon. The construction of a home for a family with 7 children on the lot where the old Saigon House used to stand offered an opportunity for a21studio to go back to the concept of blending different materials and styles that spontaneously came to characterise the urban landscape and development of Ho Chi Minh City over the years.
As in many developing nations in Asia, Vietnam has seen its biggest city transformed from the cradle of a centuries-old civilisation to a surrogate for the western lifestyle which has nothing to do with local tradition. A21studio is a group of architects founded in 2009 which sees the urban fabric and landscape as an important heritage to be restored to the people and applies this concept to both new constructions and renovation of existing buildings.
Saigon House is located in the lively Bình Thạnh district, a rapidly changing neighbourhood which is attempting to preserve its architectural history through the transformation to modernity. This is the key to interpretation of a21studio’s project, going back to the model of the home of famous collector Vuong Hong Sen (1902-1996). Nicknamed Anh Vuong, Van Duong, and Dat Co trai, he was a great cultural authority in his city, an academic, an expert in archaeology and a well-known antiques collector. Before he died he donated his house and all his belongings (a total of 849 different antique objects) to the nation of Vietnam, in the hope that a museum would be opened in his name. The institutions have yet to take action, but the abandonment of this important Vietnamese cultural heritage site inspired a21studio to start working on its crusade to save the country’s traditions here, viewing Saigon House as a collection of objects, materials and structures reclaimed from demolished houses in the area, put together to form a myriad of different colours, styles and symbols.
And so the new Saigon House, with its concrete and brick frame representing a return to a construction method common in inexpensive housing in Vietnam, incorporates work by various craftspeople, such as ironmongers and carpenters, bringing back the past by literally grafting on elements reclaimed from the demolition of other homes, such as tiles, doors, windows and floors. All of them are treated like precious artworks which increase in value over the years; like Vuong Hong Sen’s collection, they are not kept in glass cases but form an integral part of the home, and in Saigon house they are introduced as elements of the structure itself.
While the wall of the building overlooking the street is tall and narrow, like the “tube houses” typical of the Bình Thạnh district, and the home loses almost all its spatial characteristics, on the inside the four levels are extended in depth with a multi-coloured inlay of adjoining spaces alluding to the stratification typical of traditional homes in the area. To make up for the absence of windows onto the outside, the roof is used as a vertical opening on the outdoors: the roof is a decorative metal grid on which indoor plants may climb, so that it will eventually be completely covered with greenery.
Client: Gia đình có 7 đứa trẻ (family with 7 kids)
Location: 2/10 Nguyễn Huy Lượng, ward 14, Bình Thạnh district, Hochiminh city (Vietnam)
Site dimension: 3x15m
building area: 135 sqm
Project Year: 2014
Structure in concrete and reclaimed materials
Photographs: Quang Tran