Routine breakfast rituals are easily transformed into uplifting experiences within the towering shade and gentle ambience of this all-bamboo café. Step inside for a closer look.
The quest for sustainable living has unearthed a variety of green materials of which bamboo has emerged as a clear favourite with many architects and designers who love it for its abundance, low cost and versatility.
In Vietnam, architect Vo Trong Nghia and his eponymous firm harness their country’s abundant natural resource – bamboo – to create stunning landmarks, the latest of which is the Kontum Indochine Café in Kontum city.
Attached to a hotel complex that runs along Vietnam’s Dakbla River, the café offers a spectacular gateway to visitors entering Kontum city. Built in 2013 on a corner plot, the Café is composed of two major elements: a main building with a big horizontal roof made of bamboo and an annex kitchen made of concrete frames and stones.
All elevations are open to air with the south facade facing the main street along the Dakbla River; the east facing the service street; the west facing a restaurant and the banquet building belonging to the hotel complex and finally the north facing the annex kitchen which serves the Café.
The café’s quasi-al fresco layout makes it a naturally attractive venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner besides it is often preferred as a banquet hall for weddings and other events. The grand bamboo arches of the café frame a picturesque view of the Dakbla River against the backdrop of rugged mountains in the distance.
Inside the café, guests often liken the experience to being in the midst of a bamboo forest closed in by the mountains. According to architect Vo Trong Nghia, “The challenge of the project was to respect the nature of bamboo as a material and to create a distinctive space unique to bamboo.”
The architect who is often admired for his innovative creations in bamboo does not disappoint in the design of this café either. Hollow, flexible poles have been utilised to spectacular effect by bending and tying them into 15 giant-sized inverted cone-shaped structures that rise dramatically to support a high V-shaped roof.
The architect states quite simply that, “The form of these columns was inspired by a traditional Vietnamese basket for fishing which gradually narrows from the top towards the base.” Reproduced in this size however, the indigenous form takes on a dimension of stupefying effect.
Design apart, what also elevates the bamboo cones to another level of wonder is the absence of any steel joints in their construction; a material ostensibly essential to the creation of the cones.
According to the architects, bamboo’s unique characteristics demand a treatment different from that applied to steel and timber. They explain, “Using steel joints kills the cost benefit of bamboo structures. It also generates too much local load which is not appropriate for bamboo, often causing it to buckle under.”
The indigenous solution to seasoning and strengthening bamboo for such structures, they share, involves an age-old process whereby bamboo is soaked in mud and then smoked out. Natural rattan tying methods and bamboo nails are further employed to hold the bamboo in place.
The architects further reveal that their bamboo construction techniques were informed by Japanese knowledge and a long-standing experience of wooden structures. They add, “Maintenance is planned every three years and happens periodically. During the maintenance, workers will check damage, tighten the rope and relocate damaged bamboo if necessary.”
Outside the café, Vo Trong Nghia paints nature into the surroundings with an artificial shallow lake that skirts the rectangular layout of the main building. The reflection of the bamboo cones in the lake, especially at night, creates a vision of breathtaking beauty.
The roof of the café is covered by fiber-reinforced plastic panels and thatch that shelter it from harsh natural elements but allow light to penetrate into the main volume of the space.
Despite Vietnam’s tropical climate, the café has little need for air-conditioning thanks to the structure’s deep eaves and large trees in the vicinity as well as the artificial lake that cools air flowing inside the café. The open structure maximises wind flow into the building during summer and at the same time resists harsh storms during turbulent weather.
The Kontum Indochine Café is an elegant response to the call for sustainable architecture while simultaneously whetting the human appetite for beauty and grandeur in man-made structures.
Text By Christabelle Athaide
Photographs Courtesy Hiroyuki Oki