Bamboo Architecture: Vo Trong Nghia & The Work of VTN Architects
Preface by VTN Architects; Introduction by Masaaki Iwamoto; Interview by Vladimir Belogolovsky; Edited by Oscar Riera OjedaOscar Riera Ojeda Publishers, May 2021
Hardcover | 8-1/2 x 11 inches | 320 pages | English | ISBN: 9781946226457 | $59.00
“I think bamboo is the right material for creating a new architectural language unique to Vietnam.” Vo Trong Nghia
With the climate crisis raging and awareness of humanity’s detrimental impact on the environment now patently apparent, the need for architects to come up with sustainable new solutions has never been more pressing. A key part of any green approach to architecture is the use of local natural materials with a low environmental impact.
Bamboo, which has been widely used in Asian architecture for centuries as scaffolding and for bridges, pavilions, houses and other structures, is an ideal material in this context: lightweight, strong and readily available. In an effort to meet the challenges of the 21st century, VTN Architects has developed few ways of working with two species of bamboo in particular: the flexible “Tam Vong” (Thyrsostachys oliveri Gamble) and sturdier “Luong” (Dendrocalamus barbatus), creating a manufacturing workflow that allows for the production of standardized modules, a knitting technique that enables the material to span large distances and environmentally friendly traditional treatments such as mud-soaking and smoking. In Bamboo Architecture we see how these methods have been applied in award-winning, groundbreaking projects such as the Wind and Water Café, Diamond Island Community Center, and the majestic Vedana Restaurant, alongside an illuminating introduction by Masaaki Iwamoto and an interview with the studio principal Vo Trong Nghia who offers an inspiring vision for the future of natural, green architecture.
Based in Ho Chi Minh City, VTN Architects infuses its work with lushly planted walls, hanging vines, structure-piercing trees, weathered stones, and sunken landscapes.
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This monograph, one of three new ones on Vietnamese architect Vo Trong Nghia and the work of VTN Architects recently published by Oscar Riera Ojeda, could have gone by another name: Bamboo Shelters, perhaps, or even Bamboo Hospitality. This is because the fourteen projects in the book narrowly fit into just a couple of typologies: hospitality — cafes and restaurants, mainly — and temporary installations/exhibitions. The prevalence of the first expresses, among other things, the role of tourism in the architect's home country, while the latter conveys the demand in other parts of the world for Nghia's striking designs; both illustrate the benefits and limitations of the material.
The book starts with a short but helpful introduction by Masaaki Iwamoto that centers Nghia's building within the precepts of Buddhism and points out how the firm's architects, engineers, and craftsmen detail the structures made from the inexpensive (1 USD per stalk!), renewable material. Most important is how they bundle bamboo of different sizes — small-diameter "Tam vong" and larger "Luong" — to deal with the variety and availability of stalks, resulting in arches, domes, and vaults with an amazing density of bamboo. The cover photo, the Diamond Island Community Center, is but one illustration of the way bamboo is elevated to a structural art.
The community center built on Ho Chi Minh City's Diamond Island in 2015 is documented with photos that show the multiple dome structures (two big, six small; seen in the second spread, below) under construction, with the bamboo lattice open to the sky, and in their finished state, when thatch covered all of the bamboo, minus small oculi for passive ventilation and the base ringing each dome. In essence, the thatch roofs cover round spaces that are open to the elements but sheltered from the rain. Outside of a couple exceptions, each project in the book is a variation on this: impressive roof structures sheltering outdoor spaces. Such an approach is suitable for Vietnam's tropical climate, especially dining spaces that can be open to the elements; if bamboo could be the primary material for a house, museum, or some other typology with conditioned spaces is debatable, not explored in this volume's projects.
Although Nghia, in his interview with Vladimir Belogolovsky at the back of the book, does not address the narrow typological range of the bamboo architecture found in the preceding pages, he does assert the material could be used in nearly limitless ways, even as "a structural support of buildings of two-[to-]three stories." Given the obvious sustainable nature of bamboo, such multi-story buildings would be welcome, especially if designed by Nghia as sensitively and creatively as the single-story domes and vaults prevalent in the book. Most likely, bamboo used for beams, columns, frames, and other elements in enclosed buildings with more than one floor will be akin to CLT rather than the bundled stalks Nghia and his team have perfected over the last ten or twelve years.