Diamond Island Community Center

Urban spaces

Hiroyuki Oki

Since their establishment in 2006, Vo Trong Nghia Architects have pushed for the use of bamboo in design and construction through many of their projects.

Af Nina Tory-Henderson

Often in collaboration with sustainable building contractors Wind and Water House, the Vietnam-based architectural practice’s structures range from sandwich panels of polycarbonate and bamboo used in low-cost housing to self-supporting vaulted ceilings for upmarket hotels.

Experimenting with both contemporary and traditional building techniques, Vo Trong Nghia Architects seek to expand the use of bamboo into mainstream construction in Vietnam, by producing systemized, prefabricated building processes. The use of bamboo construction still remains a challenge in a market dominated by steel and timber, with few contractors having experience with the under-utilized material. It is a sustainable, cost-effective and climatically appropriate structural alternative in Vietnam, where it grows abundantly and quickly, and costs as little as one US dollar per cane. As an indication of its sustainable properties, some bamboo species can be harvested every 3–6 years for construction purposes, compared to softwoods at around 25 years of age, and hardwoods from 50. It has an impressive weight-to-strength ratio, with a higher compressive strength than brick or concrete and a tensile strength that rivals steel. VTN architects have called it “the green steel of the 21st century.”

The two larger dome structures of the Diamond Island Community Centre, measuring 24 meters in diameter, are impressive lattice structures; each piece of bamboo was woven on-site by highly skilled workers. The smaller umbrella-like structures, with a diameter of 11 meters, adopted a prefabricated construction technique made from 12 units that were assembled on site.

The larger pavilions are double-layered structures. The outer thatch roof overhangs from the inner structure to create deep eaves, protecting the interior from harsh sunshine and heavy rainfall.

The eaves extend almost to touch the ground plane, giving the domes a hovering quality from the exterior and creating a protected interior, where one is fully enveloped by the latticed dome. A small Pantheon-like aperture at the dome’s apex brings in diffuse light throughout the day and releases hot air, pulling in the cool breeze off the adjacent river.

Despite aspects of this project that should be applauded — the innovative use of bamboo, the impressive structures they form and the utilization of pre-developed land — the siting of these beautiful structures means they cannot truly perform their function. The elephant in the room is that there is no community to inhabit this ‘Community Centre’ at Diamond Island while the high-rise apartments are yet to be complete. Without proximity to the public or an established community, these structures may result as only aestheticized pavilions in the landscape.