Founded by Walter Groupius, Bauhaus promoted rational and functional design by blurring the lines between the fine arts, architecture, and technology in a post-war era.
There’s a new kid on Saigon’s commercial real estate block and the newcomer is turning heads. OfficeHaus, a modernist marvel opening in Saigon’s ‘green lung’ in late 2021, hopes to revolutionize the way the city works. A handsome Bauhaus-inspired 7-storey building located within Celadon City, OfficeHaus has residential zones, the country’s largest Aeon Mall and Tan Son Nhat International Airport all within easy reach. Formed for function and built to be affordable, it offers a LEED-certified, human-scale alternative outside of the downtown core.
Follow Vietcetera’s ‘Only With OfficeHaus’ series where we try to envision what the new office landscape will look like.
Walking through the winding streets of downtown Saigon, a fresh arrival will quickly notice the very prominent features of neoclassical buildings erected by the French in the colonial days. But red brick tiles, wooden louvered windows, iron balcony bars, and elaborate balustrades are not the only elements contributing to the endearing architectural scene of Saigon.
In fact, the majority of the buildings that give the city its unique visual heritage are the predominantly modernist apartment blocks constructed by local architects in the roaring 40s, 50s, and 60s. Upon closer observation, Saigon’s architecture, like its culture, is a hodgepodge of foreign influences and local designs, many expressed in the language of vernacular architecture and modernism. In skilful hands, such amalgamation creates a unique style in which nostalgia nestles quietly within prime real estate.
In an era of rapid institutional and economic reform, many of these Saigon-specific architectural details are gradually losing the colonial-modernist aesthetic as developers from across the globe are flooding in with ideas for a more globalized look for Saigon’s real estate (Bitexco Tower, a downtown landmark, is one example of such international style of architecture).
And while authorities are starting to throw their weight behind conserving the city’s colonial heritage, Saigon’s modernist buildings haven’t been quite so lucky. Facebook groups such as Vietnamese Modernist Architecture have been raising awareness on the grassroots level, spotlighting some of the city’s overlooked gems that are endangered. Now, they also have pioneering developers in their corner who are not afraid to push the envelope with unconventional concepts, including the current Bauhaus revival.
OfficeHaus, the modern-day, minimalist answer to a burgeoning city’s needs, is a workspace for the 21st century that conceptually and stylistically draws inspiration from the global modernist past.
Exploring the original modernist belief that ‘form follows function’, OfficeHaus was inspired by the idiosyncrasy of the early 20th century German Bauhaus movement. Founded by Walter Groupius, Bauhaus promoted rational and functional design by blurring the lines between the fine arts, architecture, and technology in a post-war era to maintain aesthetic standards in an industrialized world, all the while using materials in an intelligent and purposeful way.
The movement caused a lasting ripple effect in the global architectural scene when Gropius and prominent members of the Bauhaus School emigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s. A century later, the influence of Bauhaus still lives on around the world, including in the leafy suburbs of Saigon, thanks to the Bauhaus revival brought about by the OfficeHaus team.
To quote Axel Korn, the founder of Korn Architects and designer of OfficeHaus, in Vietnam, there’s “a lot of over-working happening nowadays, which can be nice on the surface, but ineffective for the workplace.” As a result, a lot of buildings are beginning to lose their character.
“To simulate Bauhaus values of simplicity and functionality,” he continues, “the design for OfficeHaus was kept straightforward, but a lot of tweaks to details are applied to incorporate artistry within everyday function.” While there are many over-styled office buildings in Saigon with plentiful aluminum fins and decorative applications on offer, OfficeHaus stands out by using gray and white tones, local natural stone, powder-coated aluminum to maintain a sleek, modernist look without too much glitter-work— reviving the essential qualities of a bold, flexible, and efficient workplace.
As the first establishment to use I-beams, the Seagram Building is one of the best examples of Bauhaus. It’s sited just across Park Avenue and looks like a simple bronze box, but is seamlessly integrated with its lime-stone bedrock neighbors. You’ve probably seen the building in the famous 1961 film, Breakfast At Tiffany’s!
No city in the world has a larger collection of Bauhaus-inspired buildings than Tel Aviv, Israel. There are over 4,000 apartment buildings in pearly white facades, most of which are housing blocks designed by German-Jewish architects in the 1930s.
When Walter Gropius left Europe in 1937 for his teaching position at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, not only was he escaping political and artistic persecution, but also smuggling his Bauhaus designs to a progressive United States, where he housed in his new family home in Lincoln, Massachusetts. His new home shocked New Englanders with its bizarre glass blocks, chrome banisters, and metallic Breuer-designed furnishings.
Tapping into the Bauhaus ideas, Korn Architects conceptualized a project that succeeds in creating a working environment that exceeds even the most complex needs of employees while clearly expressing modernist values.
Think of the OfficeHaus building as one big toolbox. Employees have the option to pick and choose key blocks of the space to build an environment that will maximize their own effectiveness. In addition to offering Vietnam’s first advanced contactless access technology, the quality of the building lies in the many thoughtful details that are there for the benefit of the tenant: a large uninterrupted floorplate, modular tenancies which can be combined to work both horizontally and vertically, and windows designed for the most efficient use of space. All these features, including efficient building services, result in low operating costs.
The beauty of the building reveals itself at first glance. While in essence, it’s an expression of German modernism, it is also carefully detailed to ensure a long lifespan in line with the “less is more“ approach. The space is expected to see a multitude of satisfied tenants when it opens in late 2021.
Bold projects like OfficeHaus that bring value to both the tenants and the city at large, that send a clear message about its function through a carefully crafted visual identity, are the ones that will ultimately succeed in meeting the demands of a rapidly changing market like Vietnam’s.