For the World Expo 2015 in Milan, Vietnam was represented by Vo Trong Nghias concept pavilion inspired by lotus ponds. Commonly found in the country, the lotus is Vietnams national flower and a symbol of purity, commitment and optimism for the future.
The firms response to the expos theme, Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life, was that in order to bring the power of living back to urban people, it is not only necessary to provide them with food but with positive and harmonic feeding for their minds. The project took a keen look at globally increasing population levels and the impact this has on the ever-widening gap between the upper and lower strata of society. This economic disparity leads to rapid and uncontrolled urbanisation. As a result, the visible and usable green space in cities is constantly diminishing.
In Vietnamese cities, including Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, green areas are decreasing to less than one square metre per citizen. City life and technology have made human beings disconnected from nature. As a solution to the prevailing condition, VTN Architects pavilion design shared an approach to plant trees on top of buildings, in order to counter the loss of surface green coverage. Their proposal suggested that bringing trees back to the cityscape will reinforce the importance of nature and regenerate the idea of living in harmony with nature.
The site allotted for the Vietnam Pavilion was only 887 square metres. After deducting the setback area, the architects were left to work with a meagre 400 square metre sized space. The starkest imagery which remained in the eyes of the visitors of the pavilion, was of a forest of forty-six trees planted above the building. The intention was to compensate for the barren environmental conditions at ground level.
The two-storey exhibition space positioned at the centre of the pavilion was surrounded by water on all sides, and framed by twenty-five bamboo structures of different sizes. The bamboo columns resembled umbrellas and supported the trees atop. The composition of the pillars was reminiscent of an earlier project by the firm, Kontum Indochine Caf. Lotus leaf-shaped platforms formed the approach to the pavilion, guiding visitors through the entrance. Screen walls encircling the perimeter folded back to bring in natural ventilation to the exhibition areas.
The most exported products of Vietnam – rice, coffee, pepper, dried fruits and seafood – were kept on display in the exhibition area. Apart from this, video clips, graphics, magazines, books and pottery works were beautifully presented. Three music shows were performed daily by local Vietnamese artists. A small space was dedicated to introducing visitors to traditional Vietnamese food.
Sustainability was the most important driver behind the design concept. The trees planted on top not only provided much-needed visual relief, but aided in blocking out solar radiation by casting extensive shadows across the building. In synergy with the surrounding shallow pool, the trees generated a refreshing breeze, cooling the air and creating a comfortable micro-climate for visitors. This enabled high energy savings in the building.
A simple steel structure held the building up. Locally available bamboo, a material that shares a strong relationship with Vietnamese culture, was used to clad the columns. According to the architects, the texture and tactile nature of bamboo helps regain peace in the minds of people.
Twenty Vietnamese artisans trained in the craft of bamboo construction installed the prefabricated bamboo parts on site. In keeping with the environmentally conscious theme, the bamboo structure was designed such that it could be dismantled and reused at another location, after the six-month long expo (from May to October) reached its closing.
The consumption of the lotus is an example of sustainable living, and as such, formed an apt source of inspiration for the design of the pavilion. None of the plant is left for waste, said the design team. The roots, stalk, leaves, flowers, seeds and stamens alike, are considered delicacies.
The lotus finds diverse applications in Vietnamese cuisine – in soups, salads, snacks and drinks – as well as in natural medicine. The plant grows from muddy ponds and blooms with breathtaking beauty above the surface. The flower is proof that patience can turn difficulties into advantages, the team added.
The Vietnam Pavilion was recognised with many fruitful achievements including rapid installation of bamboo parts, planting of trees in large roof-level bamboo pots, reusability of structural components, as well as high numbers in energy savings. Having successfully driven their message across in Milan, the architects now propose their concept of Building for Trees for all future cities – a concept which, they are convinced, will bring the joy of living back to people.
Text By Priti Kalra
Photographs Courtesy Vo Trong Nghia
Architects and Saverio Lombardi Vallauri