HTAP Architects inserted a contemporary art center into an existing steel warehouse in District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The aim was to produce a complex of related venues, making it a destination not only for art events, but also for working spaces, healthful meals, evening drinks and more. The core design idea was to build as much as was necessary to make the space vibrant and viable, but to accept and even facilitate anticipated modifications that would come as the exhibitions changed and the complex matured. Because of these anticipated changes, the project was infused with a sense of collaboration with un-knowable future participants.
The interior of the warehouse was clad in an exposed steel mesh supporting a foil-faced insulation that provided not only thermal assistance, but also an increased reflection of light. An exposed concrete floor completed the functional yet clean interior envelope for rest of the design process.
Two small structures were designed for the space and carefully arranged to generate multi-use galleries in the surrounding “leftover” spaces. A ground floor reading room of raw steel shelves with a raw steel roof supports viewing areas above. A timber window seat facilitates reading and contemplating the art beyond. Above the reading room, a glass faced exhibition space was designed to highlight special art-pieces.
The flexible residual spaces accommodate contemporary art as varied as paintings, sculptures, films, performances, installations and environments. The large crowds attending the art openings, screenings and performances circulate comfortably through the spaces, though the galleries feel as comfortable populated by only one or two visitors. Three steel entry portals frame views looking both inwardly to the art exhibition areas and outward to the courtyards beyond.
In front of the warehouse building, where only temporary and reversible constructions are allowed by law, eleven shipping containers were piled creating a loosely ordered three level village of cafes, restaurants, shops, and co-working spaces around an irregular outdoor plaza. A long container set at a precarious angle and pierced by irregular cut outs houses a staircase ending in a framed view of the sky. Its many cut outs unexpectedly connect adjacent spaces, activating the complex while its arresting angle anchors the complex in the surrounding neighborhood.
The complex’s street façade reinforces the theme of collaboration through its skin of artwork painted onto the containers by local invited graffiti artists. The result is an informal and resilient nexus for the Ho Chi Minh City contemporary arts scene in Ho Chi Minh City that is designed to accommodate the inevitable changes to come as the center matures and the art community grows.