Where the past meets the future.
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Designer(s) : Nguyen Quoc Doan

University : University of Architecture, Ho Chi Minh City

Tutor(s) : Do Quoc Hiep

District One of Saigon is a melting pot of disparate people from all walks of life. The rapid ones, leaving home early in the morning, are white-collar people racing to their high-rise offices. They tend to spend their whole day in narrow workspaces and leave at 8 pm. But in their younger time, life was slow and vibrant in the same places. There were no high-rises, no adult pressure. The kids would follow their parents to the parks in the morning and attend theatre shows at night. Urbanization means those utilities have to be brought down for their vertical counterparts, due to the lack of spaces available in the city centre.  People are more eager to rise to the top and have less time to recognize their surroundings in the race.

While going high is inevitable for such a condensed city centre like District One, the demolition of cultural architecture would result in a soulless area. What values can those new buildings contribute to the city, make up for the grounds they took?

Many projects around the world, such as the Elbphilharmonie, or the Hearst Tower, embrace existing architecture as a part of the new construction. My graduation project tackles a particularly challenging yet promising location. The site consists of a 100-year-old temple, which enshrines the deity of Tan Khai Village, the oldest area in Saigon. Sadly, the place once being the heart of the community, the spiritual home of many traditional music performers, is now totally covered by chaotic blocks of shophouses and billboards.

The project aims to revive the diminishing aesthetic atmosphere by integrating the temple into future high-rise development. The main idea is to restore the spirit of the cultural hub in the form of a “living museum”. Minimalism in practice, the mere existence of the temple against time brings a sense of timelessness. The cultural attractiveness can largely benefit the office tower since a lot of companies have had their offices in district 1 because of the historic background of the city centre. A building with an active witness of time in the middle certainly has its charm.

The silhouette of the building is a combination of the striking symmetrical monolithic geometry of the tower and the fluid-like shape of the podium’s roof that resembles layers of sunshades covering for audiences of outdoor opera performances in the past, now shelter a whole new 600-seat auditorium. While the architectural language can be primitive, it requires modern structure to achieve large spanning and precise curvatures. This approach doesn’t just appear out of thin air. The site is constrained by three main roads, forming a triangular plot, adjacent to the Central Park Saigon. Vertical structures are deliberately put in positions that do not overwhelm the temple in terms of visual weight and density. The final composition retains the original position and direction of the temple, and welcomes lights and people into the core space, which is filled with greenery landscape, as an extension of the park.

The odd coexistence of modern technology and traditional heritage could ponder new thinking for the public about what makes a modern Saigon. The architectural identity of a city should stem from both its cultural grassroots and modernization, and no other heritage architecture should be quietly torn down, just because of the need for economic growth.