Vietnam 2016

In our second year, Tropicality canvased the streets, shops and houses of  Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam, listening to the stories which people who live there wanted to tell. Through film, diagram and writing, we collected observations and composed explorations into a torrent of converging forces there: vectors of development, memories of the past and fleeting present and dreams of the future. In other words we traced through oral story and material evidence, the outlines of a violent confluence of, on one hand, still place-specific cultural traces, idealised memory and histories,  imaginations or aspirations for the future, and on the other, mass urbanisation and private development, industrial and post-industrialisation. These forces and movements, and the shifts in experience and the human condition which they bring, often promise empowerment and freedom, though, in keeping with understood mechanics of our reality, they also decompose, bring unforeseen loss, complexity, and struggle. From one angle, we appear to be increasingly alone and isolated. From another, these evolving realities seems to contain an infinite, still untapped capacity – as our experience during the workshop proved to us – for an empathy and solidarity before unthinkable.

Please enjoy the work and join us next year in Sri Lanka!


Quan 4

Nhà (house, building) Tù (prison, stagnant) Lỏng (soft, fluidity, thin, loose)

Hieu is 57 year olds, he is living in a small wooden house in district 4 of Ho Chi Minh City. He was born in this house. All of his brothers went to America after the Vietnam war, he stayed. He used to drive French diplomats, now he runs his business from his house. He compares his house to a soft prison.

The house, the car, objects of memory, and solid justifications and rationalisations act as frames for him; as a system for orientation of the self and to give meaning to decisions, behaviors and beliefs. His soft prison is consciously constructed to obscure regret, internal conflict and contradictions; to contain a struggle between the will for mobility and the necessity of stability, between risk of the open and the security of self-imposed enclosed.

– Xuan Man Nguyen, Pham Than, Stan Turcon


Quan 2

Vietnam has difficult stories to tell, historically and in the present. When looking closely one can witness formless, boundless forces of destruction and destabilisation behind non-stop urban construction. For some, the only certainty left to be found is that god has a plan, and that death promises a stable place; the only thing that still has any form is family tradition, which goes back further than written history and tells people who they are.

In the project District 2 we hear the story of two lives and of their houses, both without land papers and in the path of expanding urban development. The way that their children think of themselves and family has changed as rapidly as the sprawl around them. They constantly build both their physical practice and space in intimate relation to their transcendental space; a realm beyond the reach of an unpredictable reality.

–  Cuong Nguyen Duy, Phong Phuong, Shidi Fu


Quan 5

The project District 5 tells the story of a young girl from a family who constantly move houses around the city. The family’s experience continuously gravitates around a search for their ideal of a perfect home, that is represented by stories of the parents’ old life in Hanoi; a place of community and conversation which stands in stark contrast to the battles with neighbors which seem to be inescapable anywhere in Saigon. The constant conflict shapes her strength of character, brings the family closer together, and is behind a directional force which brings movement and meaning to their lives. For her, the only safe place is a story; fighting is living.

–  Ayako Urae, Joyce Lam, Trung Hieu Ha


Quan 3

The experience of home is created through building a practice of everyday life. The project District 3 is about an individual’s appropriation of a public alleyway, an in-between space that establishes a site for dwelling.  A process of adaptation is revealed as a response to the temporal and unstable conditions of reality and by both personal internal and external conflicts. Through the construction of an alternative narrative, the physical reality becomes shaped by and embedded with memories, values, and desires.

Researching water circulation for a Penji (miniature garden) and planting seeds given by friends are two parts of a whole network of spaces, objects, ideas and relationships which form a life cycle in which personal refuge is found as a practice

–  Hoang Nguyen, Sophie Wehtje, Tianyi Yu, Tu Dinh, 

Year 2: Ho Chi Mihn City (Saigon), Vietnam. 3 – 19, August 2016

Ask any Vietnamese person, however scientifically minded, about the origin of the Vietnamese people and they will tell you a story about having descended from a dragon and fairy con rong chau tien. Despite a history of divisive conflicts, the belief that all Vietnamese are siblings dong-bao, has formed a bond between a diverse people since the beginning of history. Migrating 17,400 miles from Costa Rica to Vietnam for the second year of a four year trans-latitudinal journey, Tropicality will seek to ‘lift the veil of innocence’ surrounding narratives of the domestic space. We will expose patterns, struggles and resistance through architectural stories about identity, place and home. Our immersion into Ho Chi Mihn City’s (Saigon) multiverse of stories will begin on the first day with a family homestay. Students will assume the role of forensic investigator, working alongside tutors to formulate interview questions and then set out to rouse personal stories of the home. Based on material and social observations, insights and recorded stories, you will then compose your own story about the connections between architecture, identity, and place. You will devise a diagram and drawing as a plan of action to film images of people, houses, streets, neighbourhoods and the city. Editing and composing the collected materials into a short film will evolve through conversation with tutors. The short film will be a narrative composition of images (form, space, light, colour, materiality) and sound (voice, story, city, nature). The form and space of your story will be described in an axonometric diagram that collapses all film frames and their surrounding architectural space into a layered drawing. The purpose of this workshop as an experiment is to cultivate extraordinary architectural insights through a creative study of the tropical domestic space, to hone your compositional abilities and to revaluate your definitions and understandings of what architecture is and does.   Vietnam_cover