Sir Frank Lloyd Wright, once stated, “An idea is salvation by imagination.” The Atlas Hotel is a standing proof of this profound notion. With an integration of nature into the urban fabric of the building, green architecture takes on a new dimension aesthetically.
Astonishingly exotic and utterly compelling, Vietnam is a country of breath-taking natural beauty, with a unique heritage where travel quickly becomes addictive. To accomplish such an experience, a start at a hotel that emits a fresh and serene vibe becomes a must. The Atlas Hotel in Vietnam’s UNESCO heritage old town of Hoi An, is one such address.
Designed by the country’s very own Vo Trong Nghia Architects, the project combines the charm of the old town, the local tiled architecture and spatial quality to result in the five storey hotel that reconnects its guests with nature whilst conserving energy at the same time.
Coined champions of sustainability, Vo Trong Nghia Architects is an award-winning Vietnamese architectural firm, which is on a mission to transform Vietnam’s attitude towards architecture and urban spaces through its sustainable and green designs.
True to that the Atlas Hotel is a green-filled holiday destination. Nghia believes that, “For a modern architect, the most important mission is to bring back green spaces to Earth”. Located on an irregular plot of land, the design approach peddles on converting this restraint into its unique inherent character. Several internal courtyards define the organisation of the architectural scheme. The hotel features a linear layout that has been lifted to free the space underneath, transforming it into a sheltered network of inter-connected courtyards. In fact the entire ground floor is a chunk of open space.
“From the beginning I always wanted to follow green architecture but the founding of my company was difficult because my designs were different from what people were familiar with,” shares Nghia. Defined by an envelope of ‘green-concrete’, the façade of the Atlas Hotel speaks for itself.
The brick and concrete façade has been constructed from locally sourced sandstone. Natural sandstone not only has an enduring life cycle, but it is also durable and offers easy maintenance. Being local it is also recyclable and helps in preserving resources.
The addition of plants positioned in an alternating fashion forms a protective blanket to reduce heat radiation. While the exposed concrete slabs compliment and lend a sense of horizontality to the building, a layer of draping plants arranged along balconies and corridors filter in dappled sunlight and provide solar shading at the same time.
The green screen not only allows cooler air to ventilate the spaces and minimise the use of air conditioning, but it also softens the concrete and brick building visually. Due to the complexity of the site, each guest room is shorter and wider than typical hotel rooms.
This presented an opportunity for the architects to design the rooms with greater access and immersion in greenery not only from the bedroom but also from the bathroom. Apart from its forty-eight guest rooms the hotel houses a restaurant, café, roof top bar, spa, gym and a swimming pool. A cascade of plants overhangs each side of the building radiating a feeling that one is surrounded by a tropical garden.
As the lauded architect shares, “Our aim is to create affordable green architecture for the 21st Century while maintaining the essence of Asian expression.” Through experimentation and prolific building, the practice is actively collating knowledge and technology and then delivering it. Most of his buildings incorporate plants and trees as a key design element. This contributes towards sustainability in its own way.
Impervious surfaces like facades influence the microclimate of a place and increase the surrounding temperatures. A possible solution to this problem is the integration of vegetation in architecture. Plants not only provide a natural solution to clear indoor air, they also lead to bio-mimicry. Bio-mimicry is the science and art of emulating nature’s best biological ideas to solve human problems. With plant life visible from nearly every floor, the green walls pull fresh air through the perforated walls and into the mechanical ducts.
They support vertical mixing of air, so the temperature over them tends to be lower than the neighbouring areas built. Warm air rises over hard surfaces and gets exchanged with fresh oxygen. This in turn reduces the heat island effect and also the need for artificial cooling. While plants also facilitate evaporative cooling, psychologically they have their discrete way of making you feel less stressed and more productive. What more does one want on a vacation!
From the idiosyncratic diagram of each project to the precision in its construction, the Vo TrongNghia skyline is one of sheer professional expertise and aesthetic wonder. While it is true that facades are a building’s most visible element, it can be seen that adding plants to this semblance offers an entirely new dimension of texture, symbolism and seasonal dynamism.
Text By Kanupriya Pachisia
Photographs Courtesy VoTrongNghia Architects