Urban jungle
Wallpaper|November 2020
From vertical gardens to bamboo bridges, Vo Trong Nghia is set on greening Vietnamese architecture
JOSHUA ZUKAS
A few kilometres from Ho Chi Minh City’s heaving centre, a building is being grown. Unlike its lifeless neighbours, the concrete structure is encased by suspended troughs sprouting tropical ferns, pandan plants and other flora native to southern Vietnam. The office, less than a year old, is the new headquarters of Vo Trong Nghia Architects, a firm celebrated for its innovative use of nature and environmentally friendly materials. Over the years, the plants will propagate and flourish, eventually wrapping the office in a thick barricade of vegetation. Peppering the green glaze are flowering vines, mango trees and lime bushes.

Embedding trees, plants and flowers in architecture is a trademark of Vo Trong Nghia, who is calling for a rethink of the way that Vietnam is urbanising. ‘We destroy real jungles and replace them with concrete ones,’ he laments. ‘So, our aim is to reintroduce green to the cities.’ Vo’s motivations are practical as much as they are aesthetic; embellishing buildings with plants is less costly than importing marble or wood. The HQ’s verdant blanket also absorbs sunlight, preventing the office from overheating, while large open windows catch the breeze through the foliage. According to Vo, they rarely need to use air conditioning.

‘People think that there’s a lot of maintenance, but there’s not really,’ explains Vo. ‘We have systems that allow the buildings to look after themselves.’ In the rainy season, which in Ho Chi Minh City lasts for half the year, tropical downpours water the plants every day. The office also collects water and channels it to the basement, where it is stored and pumped to the concrete plant troughs during the dry season. A gardener needs to inspect and treat the plants for diseases only a handful of times a year.

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