MINH TRAN Interview

Chào mừng bạn đến Vietnam – Welcome to Vietnam! ‘zerobeyond’ travels to Vietnam to interact with Vietnamese multiple award-winning architect Minh Tran – the Founder of Minh Tran & Associates, Ho Chi Minh City. In the year 2001, Minh Tran graduated with a BA degree in Architecture Design from the University of Architecture, Vietnam. He did his internship at Studio 101 in Singapore. In 2002, he joined AA Corporation as an architect in Vietnam.

From 2002 to 2020, as an architect Minh Tran has had multiple roles in reputed firms like Real Architecture, Vietnam; Mimany Studio, New York; Elenberg Fraser, Vietnam; and Solid Interior. Extensively travelled, Minh Tran’s design creations have played a significant role in blending international vision in truly local context. Minh Tran established Minh Tran & Associates in the year 2020.

Design to Impress

The ‘Well Spring School’ project is path-breaking in Vietnamese design environment. Minh Tran revealed, “The project has become a pioneer organic architecture in terms of design and trend in Vietnam, by incorporating the vernacular approach of natural light and natural ventilation as the focal point. Vietnamese architects are now realizing their significant roles to put a check on ‘climate change’ and meet the challenges of the future with effective designing features.”

Minh Tran talks to Johnny D at great length about his journey into architecture and the ‘Well Spring School’ project.

Classrooms around Atrium

When you look back at your childhood ambition, did you always wanted to be an architect?

When I was a kid, around 7-13 years old, I used to spend time playing at PhuTho Stadium near my home, the architectural heritage of Vietnam from French architects. I still remember the building being very cool on hot summer days in Saigon, because the wall structure is 400-800-1000mm thick. I love to explore in the constructions around the house, where I live. It is an indirect association for the profession.

Site Plan

What are the various projects MTA is currently busy with, in various cities and countries?

We are designing 3 educational projects in Vietnam, 1 in HaiPhong and 2 in Hanoi in the approved schematic design stage and a 3ha factory in Tien Son-HaiPhong in the process of being approved.

When the client states the brief, what really goes in your mind?

Often keywords will unfold and resonate in the process of analyzing the information they convey and emphasize.

Central Atrium

What was the brief of the ‘Well Spring School’?

The idea of a school with modern, open and airy architecture, architectural language suitable for the surrounding landscape, the school will be internationalized and taught by a team of foreign teachers. The school should also have a national style. Classrooms and functional areas should have natural light, be reasonably arranged with appropriate functions. Construction costs should not be too high.

Kindergarten Play Area

As the leader, what do you expect from your team during the planning stage?

First, they must understand the project’s idea and timelines required. Secondly, each person takes on a role and they must understand their worth and what their responsibilities are. They should always ask questions during stakeholder consultation for the betterment of the project. Thirdly, impact changes must always have a synchronous exchange of notices between the parties. There are always 2-3 choices in less than ideal conditions. Lastly, high sense of responsibility and teamwork is mandatory.

Garden on the Third Floor

What were the major challenges of the project ‘Well Spring School’?

The form of a complex building is highly differentiated in terms of engineering and operation. Fixed and local materials can provide surface treatment solutions, roof details and apertures are always suggested to be sampled and tested, ensuring they are capable of performing well in the environment.

Since fitness activities are arranged indoors, the impact of noise levels in the classroom is thoroughly resolved through a system of cushioning and soundproof walls, ceilings and floors that absorb 100% of sound through solutions.

Plan – Main Building Area

Natural light affecting the large building surface and is also the place where the classrooms are located, the walls were treated with a thick concrete system and double-layered windows to have a smaller area than other façades to avoid heat. The construction phase was quite long and continuous. The deformation and settlement joints were distributed according to the function, so the construction must be treated continuously and hide the joints on the surface.

The school’s location in the middle of a high-rise residential area and the large amount of wind from the river will affect the convection air flow for the school. The large window openings in the façade were properly distributed. The roof gardens of the high school’s art classroom were arranged near the river, both contributing to a significant reduction of the façade area and creating an open space for internal activities on the roof.

Bird’s Eye View of Surrounding Landscape

How did the team overcome them creatively as the project progressed towards completion?

Difficulties always appear, the leader always sees the problem and properly supports the team so that the individual role is in the right place, in the right expertise, the milestones are always shared and consensus is reached. We make sure for every project to be successful by overcoming challenges to perfection (smiles).  

Well Spring School

How would you describe the ‘Elegance of Design’ of the project?

The land area is long and narrow, so the unique and multi-functional solution was the main thing. It directs the designer to the game of cubes and the game of natural light for the building and the solution of the traffic complex for the functions. At the same time, the same combination must be reasonable and effective. The approach to the blocks in the project and the poetic river makes the problem more multi-dimensional with more unknowns.

Library View

The connection of the river and the simulation through the façade is like a curtain of art fluttering in the wind, motifs are modules of light-filled doorways, and soft lines seem to break the rigidity. Of the surrounding squares tall buildings, within a relatively small setback and the horizontal and vertical modular window solution embellished with Mondrian color scheme art with stylized squares of varying proportions to create a movement without high cost. The reflection of the river and the trees affect the silhouette on the living ripple, making the building appear colorful with the passage of time, we can imagine it as a natural music caused by nature under the influence of light.

Side Elevation

Please mention 5 major ‘Sustainability’ features you incorporated in the project.

Studied from the ‘5-point Design’ of Le Corbusier in the past:  

Positively express our times; Remain engaged in the local site and history; Employ natural light and ventilation, and be of ecological excellence; Have spatial energy; and Have a poetic, material expression.

What is the total area of the project, estimated cost and the design-to-finish time period of the project?

Total area of the project is 29.500 m2 (7 Floors + 1 Basement) built with an estimated cost of US $ 20 million. We completed the project in exactly 13 and a half months’ period.

Indoor Swimming Pool

How much significance would you attribute to the conscientious efforts of the structural / civil engineers in this project?

Engineers play an important role in the project concept to achieve the overall aesthetic of the building, the rationality of the structural solution and the professionalism that helps the project to eliminate redundant parameters and achieve the standard.

How different is Vietnamese architecture from the Western Architecture?

I usually do not compare Western and Asian values or Vietnamese people in particular. To me, every nation contains good values. Didn’t Le Corbuiser have an interesting experience of architecture and people, when he came to India?

We are all the same, but we look deeper into the role of ancestral culture under the background of Western knowledge and Asian blood as the foundation and technical applications or architectural thinking language.

What we have, we apply it selectively. More practical and valuable understanding of local culture, people’s customs, geography, climate, adaptive materials and economy, environmental impact, people with which we have access to knowledge of bamboo would be better.

Spacious Corridor

Please share your views and perspectives as to how architects of the world will be able to minimize the catastrophic effects of Climate to safeguard the future of Planet Earth.

Billions of tons of concrete hammered into the ground, billions of tons of smoke and pollution into the sky by looking at the development and progress of mankind from a different angle for each country. We are essentially dying, brutally destroying the earth from the perspective of architects. With the desire to contribute good designs to Vietnamese or global society in general, I am aware of the design values that I bring to society in knowledge and solutions.

Indoor Basketball Court

How would you describe Minh Tran as a leader and a person?

A person who is close, friendly – passionate – and fierce in his desire to design works that contribute positively to society through: schools, offices, houses, landscape, interiors, furniture. I always devote the best design values to my homeland with international architectural visions that I have learned, while working and studying in the US.

Aerial View

Please state 5 recent awards’ win by MTA.

2021-22: Vmark Awards: “Golden Awards”: Best office design: Mitek / Platinum Global 5000m2.

Year 2020: Vmark Award: “Golden Award”: Best office design of the year.

2015: Dwell New York Magazine: Top 10 Best Homes from +1000 homes across America.

2012: Best Boutique Hotel in Asia: Karavansara Hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

2010: International Architecture VN “Second Prize”: RISS school Dist7, HCMC, VN “

Image Courtesy: Minh Tran & Associates

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