An Inside Look at How VTN Architects Create: The Design Process
It’s a common question. It comes up early in most interviews that any of us have sat in on. The question also comes up in non-interview settings, were it slips naturally into casual conversations. It’s not that difficult of a question actually. It is the answer that is so hard. Try putting the creative process for an international architecture firm into words.
“How does VTN come up with such creative designs?” The question has been asked so many times that one has to pause and think about it sometimes. With a lot of time to reflect on the design process and watch as it unfolds time and time again, there are now some obvious possible answers to the question. However, the real secret to the creative success of VTN Architects is maybe not such a big secret after all. We have even talked about it publicly for years.
Interviewing the Client
It seems that every project has very similar beginnings. The architects have to understand what the client is looking for. What design characteristics appeal to their tastes? Why did they choose our firm to do their project? These are important points to understand. In essence, the interview is essential to understanding the client’s requirements. Conversely, it is also just as important to uncover what they do not want. What design features should we avoid, what is restricted or not allowed by ordinance?
Okay, so we’ve now determined what the client likes and what they don’t like or can’t have. Now what? How do we take this knowledge and turn it into a creative solution that inspires and delights? Let’s continue on through the process to see what’s next.
The Site Visit
The next critical step in the design process and certainly one of the more important steps in the creative cycle is the site visit. During the pandemic, VTN Architects has still made it a practice to visit all client project sites. When the client is outside of Vietnam and travel restrictions preclude an actual site visit, a robust number of photos are required to establish a baseline for the project’s environmental surroundings.
The architects at VTN always seek to bring man and nature together in harmony. It is therefore essential to visit the project site and study its environmental factors. Is the site near a large lake, a river or a lush green forest? Is it in a busy urban setting with concrete and pavement surrounding the project site?
Each of our projects aims to reintroduce green spaces into Vietnam’s increasingly high-density urban areas and tackle the resulting environmental problems such as urban flooding, overheating, and air pollution. Regardless of the constraints the project site might have, the VTN architects have a mantra that is a part of their DNA. That mantra is to create eco-friendly structures that introduce greenery and natural cooling systems whenever possible. We seek to avoid destroying nature, instead looking to coexist with and even enhance nature.
Our approach generally incorporates utilizing traditional Vietnamese building techniques, like complex bamboo trusses, perforated blocks, cooling water systems, shaded terraces, and thatched roofs. Even when concrete is the main building material selected, complex facades that create cooling air flow and leave room for trees and plants are the norm in VTN Architect’s design protocols.
An Iterative Process
Iterative Reviews and Rework
By this time, Vo Trong Nghia, VTN Architects’ founder and chief architect, has already expressed his vision for the project with the architectural director and the team leaders involved with the project. After the project site visit has concluded, the team regroups back in the office and the architect team leader in charge meets with his team members to get ideas focused on make sure that everyone on the right track. Early sketches are developed into computer renderings. These are presented to the Director and then taken back for revisions based on his feedback and guidance. At least once daily, Vo Trong Nghia reviews the early progress and offers suggestions to help the process along.
As ideas get more firm and feel more concrete, they are presented again to the Director, other team leaders sometimes twice a day. Vo Trong Nghia is formally presented each project daily. Under his critical eye many details are changed and improved.
The iterations are important to the process. With each new iteration, the concept improves and becomes more sophisticated and elegant in terms of design, efficiency and meeting the original design goals of the client. It is only at the end of the cycle of iterations that the design concept is shown to the client. It is then up to the client to approve it as is or request further changes.
Guaranteeing Creative Excellence Again and Again
The process VTN Architects follows to create unique and amazing designs probably isn’t all that different than the techniques used by other architectural firms. Communicate with the client, visit the project’s site, utilize a series of iterations to review, beat up and improve upon design concepts. None of that seems all that special on the surface.
There is one major difference that VTN Architects has over 99% of the other firms in operation - Meditation.
Meditation: The Secret Advantage
Because of Vo Trong Nghia’s strong Buddhist beliefs, meditation has been a required activity firm-wide now for years. Everyone meditates for at least an hour each morning and at least an hour each evening. Meditation is done onsite and in groups. It is a powerful practice and you simply cannot argue with its results. The creativity it sparks within the architects cannot be mistaken. While meditation is not officially part of VTN Architects design process, it certainly is a large part of it unofficially.
“How does VTN come up with such creative designs?” We work hard and we have deep passion for what we do. Yes, we follow a process. Is the process a special one? It is a special process in terms of how well it works…over and over again.
We meditate. At least twice daily. Above all else, that simple difference contributes so much to the firm’s success. That is the part that is difficult to express in words. How does it work? It just does.
Note: Also read How Buddhism Influences VTN's Architecture.