Saigon House: This award-winning home blurs the line between the past and present

The past and present meet in this award-winning house, creating a cultural dialogue that celebrates the owners’ love for Saigon’s architectural heritage.

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Project: Saigon House | Design: a21studio | Location: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam | Photos: Quang Tran

In Saigon, there is a story about Van Duong Phu, an architectural masterpiece, built by Mr. Vuong Hong Sen, a culturist, an academic, and a famous collector of antiques who had deep knowledge of southern Vietnam and wrote many books about Saigon. At the end of his life, he wanted to convert his house into a museum in order to prevent the antiques from being stolen and to introduce Saigon culture to visitors. Alas, after his death, the house has been abandoned, and the spirit and soul of the place was forgotten.

Fortunately, the Saigon house has found a new owner who treasures what this house represents and the heritage value it portrays. Inspired by the Van Duong Phu story, the owner wants the house to be a gathering place for her family. Here’s where Vietnamese architecture firm, a21studio drew inspiration to create the award-winning house Saigon House, which was named the Best House of 2015 at the World Architecture Festival last year.

“The kids are the main factors and inspiration,” explains a21studio. “We would like to include strong Saigon characteristics, for instance slopes roofs, courtyards and flowering balconies which are common elements in Saigon architecture, along with alleys that are colourful and rich in materials. This is not only a place for communication but also a playground for kids. While these areas seem to be chaotic, they are actually deep in culture.”

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All this transpired into a design where every room in the house is modelled on a small home, and the ground floor becomes a terrace where the family gather together, turning the whole building into a vertical village where rooms are located on four different levels.

Thanks to the the narrow three-metre-wide plot, the architects kept the layout simple but ensured that there are plenty of double-height spaces to allow light to filter through from high-level windows and balconies.The upper levels feature the bedrooms where the same palette and theme applies. Both these and the ground-floor rooms are filled with reclaimed furniture collected by both the owner and a21studio.

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“Furniture and collectibles are used to bring life back into the house,” says a21studio. “Most of them are from the owner and also from demolished houses in Saigon. Besides being beautiful to look at, these collectibles come with their own stories, which encourage us to cherish them further.”

What’s striking is a tree that stands proud in the heart of the building. The outdoor space is built around this tree, creating a perfect area for the owner’s family to gather for meals. Adjacent to this lively space, a kitchen is tucked away in the space behind.

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To frame the volumes of space within the home, simple materials including bricks and timber frame are employed. The architects also added bright colours to offer variety. Over at the play area, a large net is cast overhead which is visible from almost everywhere else in the building.

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“The loss of Van Duong Phu is not only about the loss of Saigon culture,” a21studio says. “It can happen to anyone, anywhere and at anytime – for example, the loss of old good things that we try to save for our children. As designers, we would like to use our design, our architecture, the house in this case, to show how the material and spirit value of these treasures can only be maintained by those who cherish them.”

This article was adapted into a feature story for the March 2016 issue of Creative Home magazine. It was also republished as an online article on Creative Home’s website.

8 thoughts on “Saigon House: This award-winning home blurs the line between the past and present

  1. Holly

    I think your article is wonderful. History at it’s best. Such beautiful architecture and wonderful photos to show the complexity of it. I like the detail you put about the photos. I’m glad you put so much history into the article. The photos are large, crisp, and clean which is nice. The page is simple but inviting. I would read more from you definitely.

  2. Jim

    I really like the trees and other plants growing everywhere. It makes the house seem more like an outdoor area. Also it has a very casual and “homey” feel. The pictures remind me of an entire neighborhood of families from when I was a child. Nothing fancy, just very comfortable feeling. Great house and great story!

  3. Zed

    Hello Lily Elle Wong
    I am really amazed about these buildings and photos here. They tell us a big story about architecture in the past and how it relates with the present. Places like these must be overcrowded with tourists. You made me want to go and see for myself 🙂

    1. Lily Elle Wong Post author

      Yes, architecture offers a look into history and culture. When we study them closely, we learn a lot more about the places they are built.

  4. Jackie

    Oh my, I love everything about the design of this house. The simplicity and function are delightful! It just goes to show you how small of a space we can live comfortably in if the design is excellent. The photography is amazingly beautiful and I enjoyed reading your post. Most excellent! Thank you.

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