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Bamboo modern: Indochine cafe by Vo Trong Nghia in Vietnam

AR_EA Commended

Vo Trong Nghia is well-versed in using bamboo for building, and this café in Kontum City illustrates his growing virtuosity, reinterpreting a material which has traditionally been used in Vietnam through history, while adding to his portfolio of modern bamboo buildings. 

Part of a hotel complex along the city’s Dakbla River, the 550m2 café sits in an artificial pool of water and is accessed by bridges. The scheme is made up of two spaces: a kitchen annexe towards the back of the site constructed of stone and concrete, and a large eye-catching dining space. This restaurant, with its roof supported by 15 large bamboo columns, gives the impression of being in a dense bamboo forest.

Forming a grid between the dining tables of the open-air restaurant space, the building’s conical columns, which reference traditional Vietnamese fishing baskets, create a wall-less space.

‘Bamboo is one of the world’s fastest growing plants and has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete’

indochine cafe vietnam Vo Trong Nghia Hiroyuki Oki Ground floor plan

Ground floor plan

An incredibly sustainable material, bamboo is one of the world’s fastest growing plants and has a higher compressive strength than wood, brick or concrete, but its natural properties can be impaired by the use of additional steel. The way loads are transferred with bamboo structures is significantly different from those of steel. But here, the clever design of the restaurant’s columns maximises the bamboo’s natural properties. Steel was only used for tension and compression rings within the bamboo structure.

The bamboo is heated with fire to bend it to the desired shape. It is then soaked in muddy water to reduce the sugar content and discourage insect infestation. And finally, the bamboo is smoke-dried, forming a carbonised layer on its surface and ensuring its strength and longevity. Using this traditional treatment with low-tech details such as rattan fibre-tied joints and bamboo nails, the scheme melds tried and tested methods with new modern approaches including prefabrication.

Indochine Cafe, Vietnam by Vo Trong Nghia

Source: Hiroyuki Oki

‘Vietnam’s architecture is changing and Vo Trong Nghia is at the forefront of this development’

Each column, reaching 6m at the widest point, is made from more than 400 individual bamboo canes bound with a rope. A central cane bundle and four diagonal cross braces provide additional support. Bamboo has also been used for the large 6m-high angled roof, but here it is also complemented with thatch and fibre-reinforced plastic panels which allow light to permeate the space below.

Vo Trong Nghia has created a space that doesn’t need air conditioning – a rarity in this part of the world. The shade afforded by the overhanging roof and the water surrounding the space keep the café cool. The layout of the columns also shelters the space, maximising wind flow through the building in the summer while resisting harsh winds during winter months.

Indochine Cafe, Vietnam by Vo Trong Nghia

Source: Hiroyuki Oki

Vietnam’s architecture is changing and Vo Trong Nghia is at the forefront of this development. Faced with an influx of ideas from the West, projects like this keep alive vernacular forms and ingrained knowledge of how to build for the local climate while offering a modern interpretation.

Indochine Cafe, Kontum, Vietnam

Architect: Vo Trong Nghia

Principal architect: Vo Trong Nghia

Project architect: Dau Nhat Qua

Photographs: Hiroyuki Oki

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