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As global temperatures continue to rise, Vietnam is increasingly vulnerable. Across a landscape already characterized by harsh weather patterns, rapidly rising sea levels and increasingly severe tropical storms threaten much of the population. For many local designers, like architecture firm Tropical Space, adapting to a changing climate has become a paramount concern. To that end, Tran Thi Ngu Ngon and Nguyen Hai Long, the firm’s founders, have established environmentally friendly strategies to suit the local tropical climate. Drawing on traditional building practices, ventilated brickwork has become an important part of their design toolkit. In their latest project, dubbed Premier Offices, the firm elegantly employs passive ventilation in a seven-storey office building in Ho Chi Minh City.

Inviting passive ventilation, the perforated brickwork facade allowed Tropical Space to offer a carbon-free alternative to air conditioning. Encasing a concrete structure, the exterior curtain is comprised of locally sourced clay bricks, blending the building into the surrounding neighbourhood, while paying homage to Vietnam’s historical vernacular architecture. The objectives of the perforated brickwork are two-fold; maximize airflow and natural light while limiting direct sunlight. To reach these goals, sections of the facade were turned at 45-degree angles, contouring the interiors with a “moving shadows” effect as the day progresses.

Larger voids in the facade create additional inlets for airflow and natural light. Strategically placed trees and plantings limit direct sunlight and purify the air, while the greenery adds colour to an otherwise monochromatic building.

Inside, a tall central lobby atrium spans the length of the building, and is topped with a skylight. Housing the office reception, the dramatically vaulted space is accented by a brick relief pattern that mimics the exterior facade. The space brings natural ventilation — and sunlight — deep into the heart of the building.

To further maximize ventilation, the aluminum glass sliding doors and windows may be fully opened during the hot summer days. “It is important that our buildings are a reflection of the people who inhabit the space,” says Tropical Space.

Corridors on each floor overlooking the atrium connect the two building’s two volumes together. On one side sit the essential mechanical components and shared spaces; the elevator, stairs, restrooms, and pantry are all tightly packed together. On the other side, large, open office spaces are an inviting haven from the tropical heat. “For many people, the office is considered as their second home,” says Tropical Space, stressing the importance of thermal comfort — and beauty — in workplace settings.

While air conditioning is now ubiquitous in modern Vietnamese interiors, its high operational costs and carbon impacts necessitate more sustainable alternatives. Using perforated brickwork, Premier Office presents another way of doing things, equally rooted in tradition and innovation. The result is a distinctly contemporary addition to the urban fabric, yet one which fits harmoniously with its surrounding.

A Ho Chi Minh City Office Building Embraces Natural Ventilation

Local studio Tropical Space designs an environmentally friendly workplace inspired by local vernacular.

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