/ Story: Phattaraphon / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Duc Nguyen /
A green school that creates a healthy learning environment and advocates an interest in nature is making good progress in Vietnam. Here, a desire to connect with the natural world, hands-on experience growing up in the outdoors and nurturing a relationship with Mother Earth are of the utmost importance.It’s named My Montessori Garden in honor of Maria Montessori (1870-1952), an Italian educator who advocated a child-centered approach to education.
The green school is located at Ha Long, a coastal city that’s part of Quang Ninh Province about an hour’s drive from Hanoi. It embraces the Montessori Method of teaching and learning that has become popular in this region of Vietnam in recent years.
In essence, it’s about answering individual children’s learning needs and getting outside into nature, thereby developing a sense of responsible stewardship of the environment as they grow. And it’s a good idea to start early with kindergarten children, who are curious to learn and inquire about everything around them.
Needless to say spending time in nature offers lasting psychological benefits. It’s a way to build a good inner foundation for life in the process of growing up into responsible adulthood. More so than anything else, there is no forced learning taking place. It’s a curriculum by which no child is left behind, and no one is forced to learn anything regardless of his or her own wishes.
The schoolhouse design is a creation by a team of architects at HGAA, a Hanoi architectural practice, who successfully translated the ideas about alternative approaches to education into a reality. It’s a work of architecture founded upon an understanding of child behavior and nature of human learning. The result is a healthy environment conducive to learning, one that’s tailored to the specific needs of individual children.
How did they do it? To begin with, a design that’s plain and simple takes precedence here. The schoolhouse is built of steel structural framing. Dry construction was cost effective and took less time to build without causing negative impacts on the environment or inconveniences to community
In future, when the land lease expires and cannot be renewed, the whole project can simply be taken apart and moved to a new location.
My Montessori Garden sits on a small area of ground, only 600 square meters in all. For child safety, the overhead footbridge among the trees has wire mesh railing infills designed to protect against slip and fall accidents.
Although small in size, natural elements are generously integrated into the plan in a way that pleases the senses and the mind.
There are two kinds of green space on the premises. On the ground, the school yard provides ample room with raised beds for growing vegetables, in-ground plants and shade trees. Above the ground, climbing vines and edible vegetation thrive on trellises and walls producing colorful flowers that give off good vibes.
For the architects, it’s about designing an environment conducive to learning and, at the same time, promoting positive thinking, interactions with nature and socialization processes among kids. And it’s happening all day and every day, indoors and outdoors.
In a few words, well-thought-out design matters. For My Montessori Garden, it’s a design that fulfills the purpose for which it’s intended, one that’s easily to understand and presenting no difficulty. In the end, it boils down to one thing — nature is the best classroom.
/ 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
/ Story: Urawan Rukachaisirikul / English version: Bob Pitakwong /
/ Photographs: Courtesy of Vin Varavarn Architects /
The following are excerpts from an interview with M.L. Varudh Varavarn, founder and CEO of the Bangkok-based architectural practice Vin Varavarn Architects. We had a chance to get his thoughts on design and development models. Precisely, we asked him if architectural design can bring about solutions to our social problems. Here’s some useful information he shared with us.
By means of introduction, M.L. Varudh Varavarn has received wide acclaim for his commitment to innovative design and developments well suited to the place or type of the surroundings.
He has had many outstanding achievements to his credit. They range from family homes, to large residential apartment projects, to schoolhouses, hotels, vacation resorts and other establishments in the hospitality industry.
Asked what was the most difficult task in his career as architect, he said that developing a project that would play a part in resolving social problems was the biggest challenge. To a great extent there were many hurdles to overcome.
Paradoxically, it’s the challenges that make a project interesting and capable of performing as intended. Even better if it could achieve successful change for a better society.
To put it in a nutshell, it’s up to the architect to turn challenges into positive possibilities.
Let’s catch a glimpse of his ideas before listening to him speak at the upcoming room x Living Asean Design Talk 2023 on the theme of “URBAN FUSION / RURAL FLOURISH: Interweaving Urban and Rural Designs.” The conversation event will take place on Sunday August 6 at the room Showcase zone inside Baan Lae Suan Fair Midyear 2023 at BITECT Bang Na, Bangkok.
Q: To begin with, how would you define your work in design and architecture?
A: All the time, I have tried to avoid defining the nature of my design. As far as I am concerned, it’s entirely up to the viewer to reflect and form an idea about what they see.
Speaking of my approach to the job, it’s not about drawing attention to the feature or quality that identifies us at Vin Varavarn Architects. Rather, the design of everything should be perceived or interpreted for the story it tells, the meaning it conveys and what purpose it serves. That’s the way I see it.
Above all else, we will do our design based on the totality of the circumstances and with a view to solve problems that come with it.
The challenges that we face oftentimes will inspire innovative ideas to create a well-thought-out form that works. This is the feature clearly evident in the designs that we have done up until now.
There is more to it than trying to achieve the pleasing aesthetic alone. Rather, it’s about presenting a quality that’s original and unique in every project that we do.
I’m referring to the distinctive attribute that’s consistent with the context of a place, the environment, and the project’s ability to fulfill user needs.
Q: What is your perspective about Tropical Architectural Design?
A: I see it as the concept of central importance that every architect should follow. It’s a crucial stage in deciding upon the look and functioning of a development project.
In this day and age, Tropical design isn’t an option anymore. Rather, it’s a must-have. And this is particularly true not only in Thailand but also across Asia, even in other parts of the world that share similar prevailing weather conditions. It’s a responsive design that solves problems in the environment, using materials sourced directly from a locality and well suited to local lifestyle needs.
Q: Give me a few examples that speak volumes for your design studio, be it completed or experimental.
A: Certainly. Every project we’ve done is unique in its own special way. Some are created because we want to build them, in a way contributing to society. Others are experiments aimed at assessing certain features of design.
First, the BanHuay San Yaw Withaya School. In this development project, we faced countless obstacles to begin with.
After a site analysis, looking into the geographical and infrastructural context of the place, we were able to successfully turn crisis into opportunity, at least from the point of view of architecture.
Then, there’s PANNAR Sufficiency Economy and Agriculture Learning Center, an experiment undertaken to spread information about a modest but sufficient scale of living. It was a cross-sector collaboration involving members of the community, project owners, architects and building contractors.
The result was a building in which scientific knowledge combines with local experience in Tropical design. In other words, it’s a hybrid of technological innovations and good judgement in the locality.
Q: In your view as an architect, what do you think will bring a positive change in society as well as urban and rural development?
A: From my point of view, I want to make progress, not change. But if we’re happy doing our work and be a part of the solution, then we can make a positive change in our community, given the still wide social gap.
An architect has a role to play toward reducing social gaps by creating well-thought-out design that brings benefits to people in every sector of the economy and society as a whole.
Nonetheless, getting started is the hardest part in helping society. But once you get your foot in the door, get involved in your community and do your shares of a joint activity, then it’s more fun.
It brings meaning and purpose in life, and whatever you do soon become less difficult. There may still be minor issues along the way, but hey, that’s perfectly normal. Just fix it and move on.
Find out more about public space design architecture and ideas for a possible course of action toward narrowing social gaps similar to the above-mentioned projects at the upcoming room X Living Asean Design Talk 2023.
It’s an opportunity to meet up with M.L. Varudh Varavarn, founder and CEO of the architectural firm Vin Varavarn Architects of Thailand, and a panel of experts from three ASEAN countries.
This year’s conversation event is on the theme of “URBAN FUSION / RURAL FLOURISH: Interweaving Urban and Rural Designs.” The Talk is scheduled for Sunday August 6 at the room Showcase zone inside BaanLaeSuan Fair Midyear 2023. Admission is free. Hope to see you there!
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