A sculptor’s studio is enveloped by a bamboo cage for drying completed artworks
When asked what he feels is unique about the work of his practice, Tropical Space founder and principal architect Nguyen Hai Long simply responds ‘we like to create empty space’. There is a delightful modesty in this statement, a willingness to keep the architecture bare and discreet, like ‘the space in a cave or the shadow under a tree’. Here, in the Dien Ban district of Quang Nam, Vietnam, it takes the shape of a series of concentric squares held within a box 7 metres in width, housing the Terra Cotta Studio of renowned local artist Le Duc Ha. The external layer of the cube’s walls consists of a perforated brick lattice. Immediately within its internal perimeter, a narrow full-height bamboo cage accommodates benches, walkways and staircases while the rest of the gridded structure becomes shelf space for the artist’s creations, an elegant display allowing the terracotta artefacts to dry out.
On the ground floor, a wide, open corridor through the volume’s centre brings the interior and surrounding vegetable garden together. The artist’s space of production is concentrated at this level, with his pottery wheel placed at the heart. Directly above, a circular cut-out in the mezzanine enables visitors to observe the artist at work while creating dramatic shadows on the ground floor. In section, the architects indicated nearby river Thu Bon’s potential flood level – at a height of two metres it lies just under the mezzanine, enabling Le Duc Ha to keep his work and tools dry should the river burst its banks.
Through a simple material palette and pure geometric composition of both plan and facades, the practice has created this delightful ‘empty space’. Disclosing the beauty of cheap raw materials, it has also highlighted the importance for local workers to be able easily to construct its designs.
This scheme is reminiscent of Tropical Space’s Termitary House – commended in the 2015 AR House awards. Far from being a one-trick pony, the practice is, however, one that deeply believes in design as a natural product of Vietnamese culture and climate. Nguyen Hai Long acknowledges that Termitary House is probably the project of which he is most proud. It was ‘a new starting point for us’ and ‘an idea we want to develop’ – in the longer term Tropical Space plans to create Termitary Village. Looking at its portfolio of work to date, it seems the subtle plays within the rules that the practice has set for itself would enable it to create a rich collection of buildings, with the perforations and patterns in the brick facades following the different requirements imposed by the interiors, by light conditions and degrees of intimacy.
While Nguyen Hai Long points out that our living environment is getting worse, Termitary Village illustrates his aspiration to return to something simpler. When he is stuck in traffic in the morning – a moment he enjoys for the opportunity it gives him to observe the world around him and be under the illusion that, for a few minutes, everything stops moving in Ho Chi Minh City – he can’t help but think we should take a few steps back.
The rigorous approach and beautifully executed projects of this young practice should be an inspiration to many. There is inestimable value in doing one thing, but doing it well.
Terra Cotta Studio
Architect: Tropical Space
Project team: Nguyen Hai Long, Tran Thi Ngu Ngon, Nguyen Anh Duc, Trinh Thanh Tu
Photographs: Hiroyuki Oki