Blog : Natural Building

MA Architects Office: Integrating Natural Features in Workspace Design

MA Architects Office: Integrating Natural Features in Workspace Design

/ Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam /

/ Story: Kor Lordkam / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Paul Phan /

Overcrowding conditions in Ho Chi Minh City have given rise to both challenges and opportunities for the design team at MA Architects, a homegrown architectural practice in Vietnam. Back in the day, their office was on rental property with little to no room for flexibility. Albeit equipped with air conditioning and modern conveniences, the small workspace was lacking fresh air and ventilation, a far cry from the environment conducive to a relaxed atmosphere and creativity.

Coconut fiber coverings shield parts of the roof for best interior lighting and insulation.
The front façade in cool-toned gray stands sandwiched between a vacant lot and a tall building on the street corner.

Because of that, they decided to break out of the confined space into a home of their own. The new office stands sandwiched between two properties, a tall building on one side and a vacant lot on the other. Its front yard landscape is infused with green foliage.

Thoughtfully devised, the design atelier with an awesome cool gray façade is open to plenty of sunlight and fresh outdoor air plus trees and shrubbery. And the result of all this: a workplace ambience free from disturbance, one that’s good for staff’s ability to create and stay focused on their tasks.

The hallway holds a reception room that’s light and airy.

Bringing the outdoors inside, the office holds workspaces set on concrete slabs along one side and a strip of sand earth for in-ground gardening on the other.

The small, 100-square-meter office space is nestled in a peaceful city neighborhood. It occupies the full extent of a rectangular shaped lot measuring 5 by 20 meters.

The building has a narrow frontage to the street. Its external envelope is built of brick masonry plastered to form a smooth hard surface. In front of it, a small earthen terrace hemmed in by lush greenery provides a neat appearance.

An isometric drawing shows three principal dimensions of architectural features with elements of nature integrated in interior design. / Courtesy of MA Architects
An architectural drawing shows the positioning of natural elements in relation to upstairs and downstairs rooms. / Courtesy of MA Architects
In cross section, a side elevation drawing illustrates cross air flow patterns through the workspaces and under the roof. / Courtesy of MA Architects
Flashback: A photo collage shows stages of construction in chronological order. / Courtesy of MA Architects

Downstairs, a spacious workplace lies connected to a woodworking shop in the back of the building. The meeting room is upstairs that’s open to allow plenty of natural daylight and cool breezes into the interior.

Overhead, the trusses that support the roof are made entirely of timber covered by transparent corrugated roofing materials for best indoor lighting. Where appropriate, sections of the roof are protected by dry coconut fiber coverings for insulation from the sun’s harsh glare.

A woodworking shop occupies the back room, from which a staircase leads to the second-floor meeting room.
The woodworking shop lies on the earth floor with a kitchen and bathroom at the farthest end.

Because when it rains it pours in the Tropics, it makes perfect sense to plaster the entire building envelope. The hard and smooth surface goes to work protecting the building from extreme heat and wet weather all year round.

Although relatively small in size, the office interior crafted of wood is impressive thanks to an open-concept, well-ventilated layout. While dry coconut fiber coverings over the roof make the interior feel cool and dry, the uncovered part works like a skylight turning indoors into a well-lighted place.

Besides light and wind, the architect also integrated other elements of nature in the design, among them earthen floors that cover parts of the ground level. Only the workspace and kitchen floors are made of concrete slabs for ease of use and safety.

Nearby, earthen floors add a warm, natural feel to the interior with plenty of room for growing plants in-ground. As the architect puts it, being in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city, anything that brings a touch of nature, however small, is priceless.

The second-floor meeting room is open to natural daylight and connects to the trees.

A building material of choice, earthen flooring makes it possible to fill the interior with healthy green foliage along the entire wall. Earth and sand absorb and release some moisture, which contributes to a relaxed indoor ambience.

At the same time, vegetation in the front yard and decorative indoor plants both in ground and in containers go to work in tandem keeping the new office building cool and cozy just like home.

Architect: MA Architects (

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Lung Vai School: A Rammed Earth Schoolhouse Trio amid Mountains and Rice Terraces

Lung Vai School: A Rammed Earth Schoolhouse Trio amid Mountains and Rice Terraces

/ Ha Giang, Vietnam /

/ Story: Ektida N. / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Son Vu, Trieu Chien /

Lung Vai School stands in a small village and namesake located in the northernmost corner of Vietnam. Only 55 households of the Hmong tribe live in this mountainous terrain on the Vietnamese border with China. The natural environment is pristine, but it’s hard to get there from anywhere. Public utilities, such as water and electricity are virtually nonexistent, not to mention schoolhouses of standard sizes and qualities capable of meeting children’s learning need.

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School
A trio of school buildings stand on a mountaintop. Circular roofs merge into the farmland vernacular and rugged terrain.

This school construction project was undertaken by AA Corporation, an interior design and furniture manufacturing industry in Vietnam. It cost 2 billion Vietnamese dongs to build, roughly 80,000 US dollars.

Its primary objective: bring educational opportunities to minority Hmong children. The schoolhouse complex performs a dual function as center of learning for kids and a venue for cultural activities in the area.

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

The project consists of three adjoining buildings situated a stone’s throw from the village on a mountaintop. It offers a breathtaking panorama of the landscape covered in the morning’s blue haze. The schoolhouses with circular roofs call to the mind an image of wild mushrooms shimmering in the sunlight amid a dewy meadow.

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

The trio includes one schoolhouse for the kindergarten, one for elementary school classrooms and the other housing the teacher’s office, plus other facilities such as bathrooms, kitchen and multifunctional spaces supporting school activities. The schoolhouse project covers 250 square meters of land, perfectly adequate for the student populations at Lung Vai and neighboring villages.

From afar, the curved roof buildings prove a perfect complement to their natural surroundings. They are put together in a way that the roof of one building overlaps another to create coherence in architecture.

It’s a passive design strategy that goes to work facilitating the traffic between rooms, keeping the schoolhouses in shade and driving natural air circulation all day long. Like so, nothing disrupts the workings of mother nature.

In cross section, a side elevation drawing shows spatial relationships between rooms and how rainwater is harvested and carried to an underground storage tank.

In terms of the language of architecture, there is a distinct synchronization of smoothly drawn curves that twist and turn as they converge at the mountaintop. All the elements of design blend together into a cohesive whole.

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

There is wisdom in challenges. Because the project is tucked away in a remote location, transportation is difficult to put it mildly. It was a dilemma that tested the ability of the design team at 1+1>2 Architects. And yet they rose to the challenge by successfully completing the project in only six months.

The secret to a mission accomplished lies in using building techniques and materials readily available in the area in perfect proportions, in particular rammed earth construction.

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

Building with rammed earth or mud brick brings many benefits. It’s friendly to the environment and capable of reducing the ambient temperatures. Plus, it’s durable even in extreme weather conditions.

Pleasant to look at, a mixture of sand, clay and other ingredients gives a rich warm color of earth hues that allows the schoolhouses to blend perfectly into the natural world around it.

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School
A clever hack to brighten the hallway, the void of space between the top of rammed earth walls and roof trusses is filled with transparent polycarbonate boards.

Rammed earth walls are capable of supporting the loads applied to them up to a certain limit. For strength and durability, the schoolhouses also contain parts made of other materials, such as steel framing supporting roof trusses.

Steel is chosen for speed of construction and overall robustness, especially where the distance between columns increases. Plus, it’s perfect for building a great variety of roof shapes and styles.

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

Large windows and generous wall openings above rammed earth walls allow natural daylight and cool breezes into the interior.

Taking everything into account, it’s design that pays attention to detail in facilitating indoor traffic flows and interactions between rooms. This is evident in there being four entry areas conveniently linked to stairs and ramps leading from one floor to the other, as well as the internal traffic routes connecting all the rooms.

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

The schoolhouse floor is raised slightly higher from natural ground level, adding visual interest to design. The hallway leading to classrooms is built wider than average to provide space for built-in bench seating on the side. And there’s still plenty of room left.

Other useful architectural features include the extended roof overhangs that keep the classrooms cool in the summer and dry in the rainy season. Priceless!

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

Lung Vai School Rammed Earth School

Architect: 1+1>2 Architects (

Lead Architects: KTS Hoang Thuc Hao, KTS Tran Hong Nam, KTS Nguyen Hanh Le

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Peaceful, Shady Northeastern Thai House

Peaceful, Shady Northeastern Thai House

/ Bangkok, Thailand /

/ Story: Wuthikorn Suthiapa / English version: Bob Pitakwong /

/ Photographs: Soopakorn Srisakul / Styling: Wanas Thira /

Out of the edge of a sun hemp field rises what looks to be a traditional huean isaan (Northeastern Thai house). But this home, set in a shady, woodsy atmosphere, fragrant with the aromas of a Thai house and the fun-filled rhythms of Thai family ways, is fully adapted to contemporary ways of life.

After Sakda and Orapin Sreesangkom had lived 20 years in a condo, they designed this eco-friendly house to find an adaptation of Thai family life that could suit the modern age, and to build environmental awareness in themselves and their children.

The ground floor design echoes the traditional “tai thun” lower space found beneath Thai stilt houses. A porch reaches outwards to fill the usual roles: entertaining guests, and socializing.

Up close you’ll see it’s more like 3 houses connected by one deck, each one with wide eaves blocking sun and rain, but with a twist: the underside insulation is “rammed earth,” La Terre’s innovative cooling solution that rapidly absorbs and diffuses heat and is made from organic, renewable materials.

Sakda and designers Arsomsilp Community and Environmental Architects shared the same vision.

The huean isaan takes over in spirit, though, with its outward image evoking a cultural memory reflected in the playfulness of the three boys, Chris, Gav, and Guy, bringing cheer to every corner of the house.

They like to play in the attic, slide down polished planks beside the stairway, and everyone’s favorite: the sky deck, accessible from anywhere in the house.

The heart of the home is the living room: it’s spacious, with a bar counter, dining area, and sofas for relaxing, sized 7 x 11 meters, and with no support pillars blocking the view within.

It was designed to mirror the look and function of the “tai thun,” a space that brings everyone together to do whatever they like to do best, as individuals or a group.

The building foundation supports a raised deck all around the house. This keeps slithering things and garden creepy-crawlies from coming into the house, at the same time creating good ventilation below.

The extra area for sitting, stretching the legs, or walking out into the garden is one more bonus.

Sakda’s deep attachment to the traditional huean isaan is what brought this all about.

That, and the family’s courage in leaving the convenience of condo life behind them to design, build, and live in a completely different way, growing their own garden, and creating a new home that could be passed down to the next generations.

Sun hemp is grown for soil maintenance.

Owner: Sakda and Orapin Sreesangkom

Architect: Arsomsilp Community and Environmental Architect (

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