The Foreign Investor Guide to Real Estate in HCMC

By: Eric Le Dreau

Are you a foreign investor and want to know about real estate laws in HCMC? Confused by the new Property Law? Indochina Legal clears up the confusion:

One of the most notable changes introduced by Vietnam’s new 2014 property law and its regulations is the revision of the right for overseas Vietnamese, foreign individuals and organisations to own residential houses, as follows:

Overseas Vietnamese (or Viet Kieus) can now own residential houses in the same way as Vietnamese citizens without further residency requirements or any limitations on the type or quantity of houses, or the terms of ownership. They must hold a valid passport with an entry verification stamp marked by the Vietnamese Immigration Department (VID) and a document evidencing their Vietnamese origin.

Foreign individuals have the right to own residential houses, subject to certain restrictions as compared to Vietnamese citizens and Viet Kieus. In order to own houses, a foreigner is required to have a valid passport with an entry verification stamp marked by the VID and cannot fall under diplomatic or consulate preferences and immunities. Requirements of residency, investment in Vietnam, work permit, social contribution and/or marriage to a local Vietnamese is not necessary for residential housing ownership. However, as to ownership duration, foreigners married to Vietnamese citizens or to Viet Kieus are entitled to an indefinite term, whereas foreigners who are not can only own residential housing for a period of 50 years. This can be extended for another 50 years, subject to approval by the provincial People’s Committee where the house is located. Unlike other foreigners, those who are married to Vietnamese citizens are also exempt from notifying the housing administration authority at the district level prior to leasing their houses to others. Apart from that, the new legal framework grants foreigners the same rights of Vietnamese in the cases of subleases, mortgages, etc. of residential housing.

real estate in hcmc

Photo by: Manh Hai

Foreign organisations are allowed to own houses provided that (i) ownership term shall not exceed the period stated in their investment certificates issued by Vietnamese competent authorities, including any extensions; (ii) use of the houses is for residential purposes only, for their personnel; and (iii) lease-out of the houses is not permitted.

It is worth noting that foreign organisations and individuals shall not collectively own more than 30% of the total number of apartments in an apartment building or not more than 250 separate houses in an area where population is equivalent to that of a ward. In addition, house ownership beyond real estate projects (e.g. a villa built by individuals) is not allowed. For national defense and public security purposes, foreign individuals and organisations cannot own houses in certain areas. With respect to these limitations, the local Department of Construction will publish on their official website the projects where foreigners cannot own houses, detailed numbers of apartments or separate houses eligible for foreign ownership, and the number of houses where foreign ownership has been recorded. To our understanding, the database is not yet completely developed for all cities and provinces in Vietnam. Meanwhile, payment for purchase or lease of residential houses shall be made via credit institutions operated in Vietnam. So far there has been no specific instruction on foreign exchange control for relevant inbound and outbound foreign funding of residential housing.

Despite certain remaining limitations, the NHL has provided a more open approach to ownership of residential housing for foreigners. The hope is that these changes will ultimately defreeze the real estate market and create a new wave of foreign investment in Vietnam.

Website: www.indochinalegal.com


Quality over Quantity: KAZE Confronts Cheap Construction

By: John Mark Harrell

Foreign and local developers often prioritise profits over future-proofing.

The next generation is pushing for a bright future.

One of the secret “perks” to living in Ho Chi Minh City is that, for most residents, an alarm clock isn’t necessary. Every morning at around 7:00 am, 7 days a week, construction crews diligently start their work, ostensibly eager to do as much possible before the sweltering heat of midday. The shrill shouting of workers and the rumbling of jackhammers drilling into concrete is the near-constant soundtrack of one of Southeast Asia’s most rapidly-developing urban hubs.

In the past decade, HCMC has seen some dramatic new developments radically transform the city’s skyline, from modern urban developments in the Phu My Hung ward of District 7, to the Vinhomes mega-complex and Landmark 81, which is currently Southeast Asia’s tallest skyscraper. Relatively loose zoning restrictions have allowed massive developments, for better or worse, to break ground just about anywhere that space allows in this growing metropolis.

KAZE

Elsewhere in Vietnam, huge new projects in major urban centers and tourist destinations like Nha Trang, Da Nang, Phu Quoc, Ha Long, and Hanoi have expanded rapidly to attract more tourists, provide more housing and office space, and lure foreign investors. Vietnam’s economy is one of the world’s fastest-growing, with steady increases in foreign investment, tourism, and GDP predicted well into the next decade.

Is Growth Outpacing Sustainability?

What does this rapid growth mean, practically, for locals and expats living and working in Vietnam? More foreign investment, as well as foreign development companies breaking ground on new projects in Vietnam, could introduce their expertise with more advanced and modern building techniques, including sustainable materials and future-proof designs, in a relatively young development market.

According to Danish architect Fong-Chan Paw Zeuthen, founder of KAZE Interior Design Studio in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2, this is most often not the case. 

“Big investment buyers come to Vietnam to invest in a development project and flip them for a 20% yield,” she says. “So the local real estate market is getting watered down with cheap, quick projects that turn a high profit margin regardless of actual build quality.”

This attitude and mindset toward development makes it very difficult for interior design professionals at KAZE to take on new projects with the full extent of their expertise. “Consultants are used more as tools, not valued for their consultancy,” Fong-Chan says.

KAZE

In practice, this means developers most often seek the cheapest and most cost-effective solutions, rather than the smartest solutions that will save them and their end users from trouble further down the road. Interior design firms like KAZE, unfortunately, are often sought out merely to “rubber stamp” the process the developer has already determined in advance. With little to no thought given to environmental concerns and sustainability, this is a growing concern for many professionals who work with local developers.

Part of the problem stems from the young development market in Vietnam interacting with larger development conglomerates investing from afar. “Locals often don’t have lots of experience,” Fong-Chan says. “And [foreign developers] don’t have experience working with locals. Some developers have no idea what they’re doing—they’re first time developers.”

Newer technological advancements and sustainable building practices are eschewed in favour of more old-fashioned techniques that are cheaper and produce faster results. But those results aren’t always pretty; seeing cracks on the walls of brand new buildings in Vietnam is a common phenomenon, largely due to the construction materials, like bricks and mortar, not given enough time to dry out and “settle” before completing the construction process (as they dry, their composition and dimensions change). 

Building materials are most often chosen based on how cheap they are—not whether their production or use is environmentally-friendly. Not only can they be damaging to the environment, however, they can actually be hazardous to human health as well. White asbestos is still widely-used in construction projects throughout Vietnam, and it wasn’t until 2018 that the government unveiled a roadmap to eliminate its use entirely by 2023.

One only has to look to the development of other huge metropolises throughout Asia to see similar patterns from their earlier stages of development. The infamous high-rise apartments in Hong Kong, for example, are exemplary of cheap, quick construction methods with little concern for end users and low-quality materials that degrade quickly overtime and increase long-term costs. 

“In many cases we’re creating really bad living environments,” Fong-Chan says. “We’re not learning from mistakes that the other big cities have made.”

Beyond the developments themselves, these new high-rises often put a strain on local infrastructure. As the city eliminates green spaces due to the influx of traffic brought about by huge new housing developments, unseen problems are just beginning to come to light. In its current state, no water treatment or sewage system can support the number of new high rises being built at such a dizzying rate. For a city already struggling with pollution and increased flooding due to climate change, all these new developments could place even more pressure on an already overloaded system.

Hope for the Future

So what does this mean for the future of Vietnam? It’s a complex problem that developing countries all over the world struggle with as investors respond to market demands. 

“Ultimately, the demand for quality is missing,” Fong-Chan points out. “Developers are not saving the environment or costs for the end user. They’re just looking for a quick turnover.”

Because of inefficient building materials and lack of energy-saving methods, it is most often the end users who are footing a higher monthly bill as a result. If foreign investors are only fixated on short-term returns, many of these new developments will actually cost property owners and business owners more money further down the line.

KAZE

The challenge, therefore, is to increase consumer demand for buildings that are not just fashionable and functional now, but whose design and quality will stand the test of time. As the younger generation becomes more conscious of the environment and their own health, through growing global interconnectedness and education, there remains hope for the future.

Increasingly, we should be asking: should big foreign corporations not take some responsibility for the host country they are building in and making money off of? Shouldn’t we demand that they bring more innovative, advanced, sustainable solutions, instead of just exploiting the environment for a quick profit?

“KAZE is in the industry, questioning the direction we’re going as a community,” Fong-Chan says. “We are always pushing to create new sustainable communities with new developments.“

KAZE

New developments do create new communities that didn’t exist before. It is in these developments that the tremendous opportunity lies to build something that exists in harmony with the environment and promotes human health and happiness—not just for a quick return now, but for the benefit and economic well-being of Vietnam for generations to come.

Image source: KAZE Interior Design Studio


Ibis Saigon Airport: A New Flagship for AccorHotels in Vietnam

By: Arik Jahn

The First International Brand to Open an Airport Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — With an electrifying event, ibis Saigon Airport, AccorHotels’ brand-new hotel sitting right next to Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport, celebrated its grand opening on 24 March 2017. Ibis Saigon Airport is the latest addition to AccorHotels’ vast hospitality network in Vietnam.

Ibis hotel

Over a hundred guests, including Ho Chi Minh City officials, representatives from AccorHotels and the hotel’s owner company Hado Group attended the event, which paid tribute to ibis Saigon Airport with an opulent buffet, contemporary dance performances and a rooftop party.

“A Milestone for the ibis Brand”

The ibis Saigon Airport’s major asset is its strategic position: a mere 500 metres from Tan Son Nhat International Airport, the gateway to Ho Chi Minh City and all of Vietnam. Xavier Cappelut, Accor’s regional Director of Operations for Middle Scale & Economic Brand Hotels, praised the hotel as “a significant milestone for the ibis brand” thanks to its one-of-a-kind location.

Ibis Saigon Airport is a haven of hospitality tailored to corporate travellers and all those looking for “Value for Money”. With its functional and stylish travel-themed design and an outstanding 24-hour food and beverage service at the in-house Oopen restaurant, this hotel truly honours ibis’ slogan, “Well-being at the best price”.

ibis

As the first international airport hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, ibis Saigon Airport goes beyond the usual amenities of the economy sector. Its room typology – standard rooms, family rooms, studios, as well as one and two-bedroom apartments – is unrivalled in the budget segment, catering to the individual needs of each and every guest, from corporate clients to travelling families, from short-stay to long-stay visitors.

INTERVIEW WITH ORESTE TRAETTO, GENERAL MANAGER, IBIS SAIGON AIRPORT

Question: What makes ibis Saigon Airport the first choice for business travellers in Ho Chi Minh City?

Mr. Traetto: Our hotel is strategically tailored to business travellers. Our Oopen restaurant is open 24 hours and we are the only international hotel chain offering a breakfast service from 4 o’clock in the morning until 12 o’clock [in the afternoon]. So if you have an early flight to catch, you will be able to grab some food, get a coffee, hop on our free shuttle to the airport and you’ll be there in five minutes.

ibis oopen

Or imagine you are a businessperson, and had a hard working day. At ibis Saigon Airport, we provide you with all the facilities to truly reenergise you. What is very important to us is the ibis ‘sweet bed’ that can give you a really good rest. We have incredibly good feedback from our clients about it. And all that, I believe, shows how we really cater to the customers’ needs.

Question: You are very proud of ibis Saigon Airport’s in-house venues. Can you tell me a bit more about them?

Mr. Traetto: Today, travellers, even though they stay for a short amount of time, they want to optimise their stay. Now, with The Hub, ibis Saigon Airport has the only rooftop bar in  Tan Binh District. When you finish your work, you go upstairs, get a beer and enjoy the view of landing airplanes. We have a pool, we have a steam bath, we have a sauna, we have a gym – this is definitely what gives us the opportunity to attract a specific segment of clients. We provide our guests with a place to relax.

We are, if I may say so, part of the new generation of ibis hotels.

ibis hotel view

INTERVIEW WITH XAVIER CAPPELUT, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS FOR MIDDLE SCALE & ECONOMIC BRAND HOTELS, ACCORHOTELS

Question: AccorHotels is home to many brands. Why did you choose the ibis brand for this particular project?

Mr. Cappelut: I think this is a very unique location. The guests who choose to stay close to the airport have very specific needs. They might be in transit for a few hours, they might be spending their last night in Vietnam after a trip. We believe the level of comfort provided by ibis is just the right amount for these specific customers.

And the beauty of a brand like ibis is: you can travel anywhere in the world, you will find the same layout, the same service, the same comfort. Guests choose ibis because they know exactly what they can expect. That’s a guarantee that we provide to our customers. And they appreciate it.

Question: Vietnam is a country with an immense potential for tourism. How does ibis Saigon Airport serve this very particular market?

Mr. Cappelut: Vietnam is very important to us as a group. We, AccorHotels, have been in Vietnam since 1991. Back then, we were the only international hospitality company in Vietnam. That shows how committed we are to Vietnam as a business location.

And today, this country is developing at a dizzying pace. Last year, there was a 26% increase of international visitors and a 9% growth in the domestic market in Vietnam.These are incredible numbers.

And of course, we try to attract Vietnam’s domestic guests. The ibis brand perfectly caters to them because it is a functional, but full-service product that offers “Value for Money”.

Ibis Saigon Airport is quite simply the right product in the right place at the right time. And it is highly visible. In fact, we couldn’t be more visible than here at the airport. In that sense, ibis Saigon Airport is Accor’s flagship in Vietnam.

ibis hotel room

AccorHotels’ journey in Vietnam is far from over. In the next two years, the group plans to open another 12 hotels all over the country, which will bring its total portfolio to 36. But thanks to its eminent location next to one of Vietnam’s most important travel hubs and its many amenities, ibis Saigon Airport is undoubtedly a go-to for all Ho Chi Minh City-bound travellers.

 


A KAZE Perspective: 2019 Interior Design Trends in Vietnam

By: Katie Kinnon

Find out what it takes to be an interior design trendsetter in Vietnam

KAZE Interior Design Studio creates trends from District 2 of Ho Chi Minh City

The upcoming interior design trends for 2019 in Vietnam, according to KAZE

With any design industry, whether it’s fashion or interior design, people always want to know what the upcoming design trends are. Follow City Pass Guide as we speak with the team at KAZE Interior Design Studio in Saigon to understand some of the major interior design movements of 2019.

KAZE Interior Design Studio recently reached their 10-year milestone since the founding of this innovative firm. With over 100 high-profile projects across Vietnam and Cambodia completed during the last decade, KAZE is undoubtedly one of the top interior design studios in Vietnam.

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

What It Takes to Be an Interior Design Trendsetter in Vietnam

While design trends come and go, such as the industrial style design we currently see everywhere in Saigon, Fong-Chan Paw Zeuthen, the owner of KAZE Interior Design Studio in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2, explains that she doesn’t like being tied down to what’s popular.

“I hate to be a prostitute to anything trendy.” She has never wanted to be a fan of other people and even from a young age, she has always believed that people should be a fan of themselves.

She doesn’t consider herself to be trendy in any way; in fact, her husband is the trendier one of the two them, in her opinion. However, Fong-Chan does believe that her trends are born out of functionality first and then followed by unique design.

“Interior design in Ho Chi Minh City is vastly different to that in Europe and doesn’t always focus on function first. That’s where KAZE really stands out from the crowd because it targets what people want and need. But they don’t always know it until they experience it.”

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

Creating Trends at KAZE Interior Design Studio in Saigon’s District 2

Fong-Chan believes that what she calls “positive” trends come from making a person feel good. In terms of KAZE Interior Design Studio’s measurement of success, if the intended users of a project like it and feel good when they walk into the room, then Fong-Chan and her team have done their job.

For KAZE’s larger projects with notable companies like Marriott, branding guidelines have to be adhered to, which can be rather restrictive. So, finding the balance of designing something innovative within certain limitations is often a challenge, but it’s one that can be inspiring.

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

A great example of this is KAZE Interior Design Studio’s work for the MIA Resort in Mui Ne. Fong-Chan strives to tell a story in her projects, which can encompass everything from the ambiance of a space, to the way a person sits on a chair and how they feel when they do so. MIA Resort’s rooms and bungalows are at a high rate of occupancy on a year-round basis. Guests love the resort and come back because they like the way they feel when they stay there. Whether it be the casual beachside ambiance or the calming colours that reflect the ocean, every detail of a KAZE project’s story is carefully thought out and intricately placed into the interior design of a space.

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

Walking around the KAZE Interior Design Studio office, based in Saigon’s trendy District 2, there are a lot of brightly coloured fabric samples scattered over the team’s desks. In the corner of the room, one person is watching a video on how to find the perfect lighting to create a specific ambiance. On the other side of the room, two team members are sat around a computer discussing how to improve the detailing of the furniture in a digital sketch. The decisions these people make have been influenced by their own interpretation of things they have seen, felt and experienced themselves.

Interior Design Trends in Vietnam 2019, according to KAZE

When asked, “What are the upcoming design trends for 2019?”, KAZE’s project designer Maria explains that nature will be a huge design theme for the year: “As people are focused more than ever on their environmental impact, so they will turn to nature for inspiration. Colours like moody hues of blue, forest green and cheery yellow will be introduced to our design palette, and calming earthy tones like mushroom grey will be used in materials. You may also see a lot of wood incorporated in our interior design projects this year.”

Designers and construction teams are also becoming more aware of their waste and construction trash production, and so they are finding new ways to be more sustainable and eco-friendly. KAZE Interior Design Studio is a leader in this sustainable movement. Fong-Chan explains that she has always pushed the company to be environmentally conscious and aims to use materials that are sustainable and long-lasting. However, she insists that there is more to be done and everyone can always improve.

KAZE Upcoming Design Trends

KAZE Interior Design Studio’s junior designer Duong believes that the upcoming designs trends in 2019 will include block colours and in particular, the shade ‘living coral’, which is a retro orangey-pink, as well as stylized graphics. More specifically, Duong explains that vhils are on the rise. Originally created by a Portuguese street artist, vhils are typically made by scratching the surface of building exteriors to create faces or skylines and make the exterior beautiful again. Duong expects to see more digital interpretations of vhils in 2019 with fresh, exciting patterns used in the background. He envisions seeing physical or digital versions of them in hotels as well as restaurants and cafes.

When a Trend is More than a Trend - Saigon’s KAZE and Sustainability

It’s clear to see that KAZE Interior Design Studio is one of the major style and design influencers in Vietnam. The choices they make in their large scale projects will likely filter down and inspire smaller design firms and individuals. Fong-Chan hopes that others will start to take into account that KAZE’s success is largely to do with the team’s ability to put their customers first and focus on functionality before aesthetics.

It is clear that a major design trend for 2019 is likely to be a strong emphasis on the colours in nature. But what does that mean on a deeper level? Fong-Chan tries to encourage her team to see beyond just the “Instagram appeal” and focus on what’s behind the pretty picture. For example, the emphasis on nature-inspired design can also be used as a turning point for many people in the design industry to reevaluate their environmental impact as an homage to the beauty of their surroundings. In this way, KAZE Interior Design Studio hopes to enhance the experiences of people in Saigon not just through trends of fantastic form and function, but also creating enduring positive effects through sustainability.

Image source: KAZE Interior Design Studio


Deutsches Haus: German World-Class Design in Ho Chi Minh City

By: Aleksandr Smechov

Deutsches Haus is “the symbol of the strategic partnership and friendship between Vietnam and Germany.”

On the 1st of August 2017 Deutsches Haus, Southeast Asia’s most eco-friendly and well-constructed building, will open its doors on the corner of Le Duan and Le Van Huu in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, right beside the InterContinental Asiana Saigon Hotel.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

The 25-storey, 40,000 gross sq m building represents the union of the Vietnamese and German governments, showcasing modern German technology and acting as a model of sustainable design.

In 2011, Germany’s Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel and Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed a declaration establishing the partnership between Germany and Vietnam, designed to strengthen the political, economic and cultural relations of the two countries.

For the past five years, Germany has been Vietnam’s biggest trade partner in the European Union, totaling a trade volume of US$8.92 billion in 2015 alone. The Deutsches Haus is to be the central platform for German and Central European companies doing business with Vietnamese and other ASEAN businesses, as well as the place to be for cultural exchange and relations.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

The project aims to receive the USGBC LEED Platinum certification - the highest level of green certification possible. This will be the first building in Vietnam to receive LEED’s Platinum level, and is one of a few in Southeast Asia. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a globally recognised certification that ensures a building uses less water and energy, has reduced greenhouse gas emissions, pays particular attention to its construction material (and their effects on health and environment), and much more.

Examples of LEED Platinum certified buildings include the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh, U.S., which contain the world’s only Platinum certified greenhouse; the massive Taipei 101 building in Taiwan; Canada’s Manitoba Hydro Place, quoted by CBC News as one of "the most energy-efficient office towers in the world”; Kohinoor Hospital, Asia’s first LEED Platinum certified hospital; and other select stadiums, hospitals, office buildings, conservatories, universities, convention centers and homes around the world.

Currently, there are only a total of 40 green certified buildings in the country, based on two certifications: LEED, and LOTUS (a certification similar to LEED, but more attuned to Vietnam’s climate and conditions). The first building to garner a LEED certification in Vietnam was a manufacturing facility owned by Colgate-Palmolive. The Diamond Lotus is a LEED-certified condominium project that will have three connected apartment complexes covered in bamboo, to be built in the coming years.

The design of Deutsches Haus has been entrusted to world-renowned architect Meinhard von Gerkan, who has over 50 years of experience. Gerkan has designed Tegel Airport, Lingang New City, the National Museum of China, the Hanoi Museum, Hamburg Airport, both the National Assembly and the National Convention Center in Hanoi, and many others. The design he undertook for Deutsches Haus is meant to express Germany’s role as an industrial and technological leader in the form of sustainable architecture, as well as German-standard architecture abroad.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

The building’s double façade will eliminate the heat of the sun while allowing a great deal of sunlight to pass through, minimizing artificial light usage while ensuring a comfortable interior. In addition, this “double skin” will reduce noise and provide superior thermal insulation.

This façade is unique in Vietnam and is to be a milestone for future developments. LED lights will be used throughout the building for brighter and more energy-efficient lighting; the building’s air will be cleaned through a superior hospital grade filtration system; personal comfort is pushed to the forefront with particular attention to localised temperature control, centralised dehumidification, shading and daylight control and integration of all non-life systems; rooftop solar panels will be able to power the building’s lobbies during normal business hours; and a thorough plan for the building’s water system includes rainwater harvesting, grey water flushing systems and the reuse of treated sewage for irrigation and cooling.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

The city is certainly in need for a greener urban environment: according to numbeo.com, Ho Chi Minh City is ranked the ninth most polluted city globally. This is more than evident in the amount of noise and smog one encounters while cruising around the city by motorbike. Although initiatives are being taken by introducing electric buses and other green projects, until the population adapts more sustainable practices, greener buildings are a necessary beginning.

The building will feature premium office space; a residential living space on the top floors; the largest rooftop terrace in the city; a pool and a fitness center; a multi-functional conference, exhibition and event-space; a restaurant; public areas with workspaces; coffee shops; a mobile washing station for cars and motorbikes parked at one of the four basement parking levels; raised floors (functioning to hide wires and regulate room temperature); and a fully-featured lobby. The lobby will feature screens projecting weather, German and European news, the building’s environmental stats, and will include an air freshener system, German artwork, and architecturally congruent seating. The building will also be the new home for the German Consulate and other German and European institutions.

Deutsches Haus in Ho Chi Minh

This is a serious undertaking in a city full of delimiting regulations and architectural mishaps. The building is an example for the entire country to follow - projects integrating some of its features have already began construction in Vietnam. The Deutsches Haus is to be an environmentally and culturally sound representation of the city’s international future - and it seems to have been entrusted to the right hands for the job.

Image source: flickr.com


Meet the Expert: Charles Gallavardin on sustainable architecture in HCMC

By: Patrick Gaveau

Today, the demand for more sustainable design in HCMC is steadily getting off the ground. Charles Gallavardin of T3 Architecture Asia sat down with Citypassguide.com to give his perspective on green buildings in Vietnam. Charles and his wife started T3 Architecture in France in 2007, specialising in green architecture. When Charles arrived in Vietnam in 2011 to begin T3 Architecture Asia, the demand for green building was low, although interest was growing. We spoke with Charles to determine what changes were taking place to catalyse this newfound interest.

What is the definition of a green building for you?

It’s a building well integrated into the place it’s set up at. It should take the landscape into consideration - the shape of the building is quite important, to be protected from the sun and allow for natural ventilation. The idea is to avoid direct light in a hot tropical climate; that’s why we design overhangs or balconies, to take the facade away from the sun, so you keep your main walls in the shadows.

Secondly, you have to take care of the roof, and make sure there is a double ventilated roof to keep the air flow and make the top floor always cool. Then, ideally, you try to use green building materials, sourced not too far from where you are.

Why does Saigon need such type of construction?

Saigon is one of the more polluted cities in Asia now. There is a huge issue concerning air pollution. The demand of energy is getting higher than what can be produced. What we can see for many years is that Vietnam is mainly doing a “copy-paste” of buildings they saw in Western countries with full glass facades but they didn’t realise that the climate is totally different and that they have to create their own style to make their building more appropriate to the climate, to save energy, save costs and make the building more comfortable.

Do you think one of the main challenges to building green buildings in Vietnam has to do with people’s perception?

Yes. I think when you discuss this with most Vietnamese, of course they want more parks and more green areas. But in reality, in urban development in Vietnam, this is still considered a quantity issue. Which means they try to plant vegetation to increase the number of green area per square meter per inhabitant, but without having in mind that it’s better to have many small parks than having long green areas along the highway. It is the same story with green buildings: a green roof doesnæt make your building green.

 

Do you think one of the main concerns for people who don’t understand green buildings too well is the fear of additional costs?

I don’t think so, because finally we can do green buildings quite cheap, depending on the material you use. But the green principles are very basic and you can find it everywhere in the traditional architecture of Vietnam. Traditionally you have your long and narrow plot, with the shop facing the street, the house on the backside and a courtyard in the middle. The air ventilation is efficient and you have natural light in your house and your shop. The house is far from the street so it’s far from the noise. For 20-30 years, Vietnamese have lost their knowledge of how to create a green house, but recently some young Vietnamese architecture firms take traditional building materials and traditional Vietnamese architecture and incorporate it in a more modern sense to make the house more green.

So green houses are one issue, but can you tell us about the problem of green urban areas? Is this something that can happen in Vietnam?

Yes, it could. But what we can see in the development in Vietnam, it’s always private investors who wield the city, and their model is a Singaporean one, but with a lower budget and less knowledge. There are really few alternatives for high-rise buildings and private houses. So when you have a private house, the plot is usually very small, and you have very few green areas. And for high-rises, you need to build these by large streets if you follow regulations, so then you have very narrow green areas.

One solution would be to make the city very dense, with apartment blocks lower with some streets more narrow, but keeping some spaces open for parks and public gardens, like we have in Europe.

Is the government aware and sensitive about the need to do something about that?

Yes, they are. There are many discussions about this. But if you’re a private investor and you finance infrastructure, the government cannot complain too much about what you do. You try to optimize your plot as much as possible.

Is it possible to bring more awareness to private investors by showing them the financial reward in doing so?

Yes. In America and Europe, the government pushes green building by giving a loan or some advantage. The government in Vietnam doesn’t have a lot of money, so they’ve let the private investors do the development. But private investors’ awareness is going up because they see people want more green spaces, nice areas around their apartments, so it’s starting to change.

Is it feasible to build a green house or building using only locally sourced material?

Yes, it’s possible. There are many materials available; less than Western countries or Singapore, but enough to build something green. The prices are the time.

What about reusing old material. Is that something that happens in Vietnam?

Yes, a bit. For example, many architects reuse wooden shutters for part of the facade to use as ventilation. But not so much, since the quality of the construction is not so good and when you destroy a house there’s not much you can use.

Some years ago I met with an architect and he told me something that surprised me. He said that Vietnam is one of the best countries in the world for recycling. When a house is being dismantled, the Vietnamese will often take every brick and every cable, to try and reuse it for some other purpose. Is this true?

This is partially true. They reuse material by placing it on natural soil to make it not porous anymore, and then they pour cement over it to make a concrete slab. But then you have the problem that you don’t have enough natural soil then to absorb the water during rainy season, and it makes flooding a very important issue in the near future.

Energy consumption is growing, meaning the price has to go up, which means it makes sense to have more energy efficient practices and buildings, correct?

Yes, this happens in every city. When energy prices go up, green houses and buildings become more and more normal. Of course, for Vietnam, electricity cost is very low, even compared to the standard of life. One issue, even though it’s never easy for government to say that they have to increase electricity costs, especially for poor people, it’s a real way to make developers and private investors more concerned about energy savings.

In 10 years from now, what do you think the state of green buildings will be in Vietnam?

Green construction has been developing more and more, first in hospitality projects; you have international guests, so five or six years ago in the private sector and even residential projects, Vietnamese started to be more concerned about energy and cost savings, and the quality of the environment. Thanks to Vietnamese architects and small agencies, we can do something more.

Almost none of the existing high-rises in Ho Chi Minh City are really environmentally friendly. If the price of energy rises, most of these building will have to be rebuilt or adapt to the new demands. And you provide this service?

Yes, full renovation to adapt an existing building and make it less costly in terms of energy, and most important of all we make it more comfortable for people!

How big of a project is it for someone who wants to make their home more green?

Usually, you have to touch up the facade and main structure, so it’s a bit costly, but you don’t have to demolish all. It can be from some very simple like adding shutters, to touching up the roof at VND 3 million per sq m, up to VND 10 million per sq m to redo something very properly and almost reconstruct the house.

Is the wiring in Vietnam efficient?

In terms of fire hazards and electric shock, no. 

And LEDs?

There is a huge market for LEDs. They are replacing halogens with LEDs everywhere, more and more in residential projects. But before thinking about advanced technology and costly equipment - which is important also - the first thing is to try and hire a good designer when you are creating a building. And if the design is well done you are sure to have very low consumption. And of course you put some LEDs and solar panels. One of the problems in Vietnam and in developing countries in general is people don’t think of the basics. Once you do this, then you can think of the high-tech equipment and energy efficiency.


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