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Undergraduate Thesis by Designer Troy Nguyen

Noise, chaos, overpopulation, density, etc…are all major dilemmas within the city of Saigon, Vietnam. Recovering from the Vietnam War in 1975, the country itself has witnessed a major shift in economic growth. In Saigon, particularly, by becoming the center of economics of the entire nation, excessive urbanization has become an obvious attachment with the fast-paced, against the clock lifestyle embedded within the body and mind of many people.

Therefore, this thesis retraces the history of culture and lifestyle of the Vietnamese to reintroduce an ‘interstitial datum’ within the city, catering towards the public that celebrates the critical silence and contemplation values, with a hope that many souls can be healed, and social interactions can be elevated without the impact from urbanization. By framing the thesis as an interstitial datum linking between human and natural elements, urban flooding and urban landscapes transformation within a larger context are also addressed through a speculative form of architectural typology.

To deploy these areas of focus from an architectural standpoint, the thesis examines three disciplines of interest that echo the issues: Autonomy of Form, Freedom of Space, and Atmospheres.

Diagrams created by John Hejduk
Image courtesy of John Hejduk

Autonomy of Form 

This first discipline references the works of John Hejduk as a critical tool to generate forms, objects, and fragments that are in relation with memories and spirits. The goal is to systemize the thesis from a formal standpoint that not only can be retraced and reapplied but can also be open for further discussions as a passionate living element. These two well-known projects, the Wall House, and the Diamond Plan, escape the reality of function and context to focus on themselves as objects, creating and solving their own problems that therefore introduce new forms of spatial and geometrical perception that can be studied and examined within the field of architecture.

Circular diagram and model by SANAA
Image courtesy of SANAA

Freedom of Space 

This case study, the Museum of the 21st Century, by SANAA is conceptually convincing throughout its concept of part-to-whole approach and freedom of movement. The idea is that each room is carefully designed and laid out so that they create an intimate programmatic relationship as individual parts. The large circle becomes a whole that governs these individual parts, therefore preserving the purity of form while creating a free flow of circulation in between each room.

Images by Peter Zumthor that help to explain the concept of space and silence
Image courtesy of Peter Zumthor


The thesis considers some of the major points about Atmospheres discussed by Peter Zumthor as critical elements to represent a spatial void that can speak for the idea of silence and contemplation while celebrating nature and preserving contextual values of a place, therefore creating a sense of sublimity within a space. Major points such as materiality, sound, temperature, light as sculptural form will be considered to help realize the sensuality aspect of the thesis more cohesively.

Speculative Study

Following up on the three disciplines, individualism and contextualism are the first steps of laying out the primary vision for the project.

The provocation hand-drawing above elicits the author’s memories about Saigon, including rainy seasons and scorching sun, undefined rows of electrical cables and poles running across every corner of the city. By unconsciously sketching and imagining through hand, this results in some of the most preliminary vision for the thesis.

The second study is a speculative housing typology that reimagines housing conditions in flooded regions as a living tree, bringing its occupants back to the fundamentals of nature-inspired forms to build up the relationship between humans and natural elements, retaining rainwater instead of draining it. The space forms itself with a funnel roof to capture rain from the top. Tree roots are developed into a tubing system on the ground to absorb water from street level.

The middle space becomes the in-between zone for re-interacting with wetness in such a way that the coexistence between humans, plants, and water becomes even more transparent. Fog room creates clouds from rain as the final output after going through a filtering system from plantings, introducing a type of wetness that activates poetic atmosphere and playfulness. Ultimately, by applying a part-to-whole approach, this study was important to allow the thesis to develop further on a larger scale.


Beautifully situated in the center of Saigon and designed by a well-known Vietnamese architect, Ngo Viet Thu, the Independence Palace once held a historic event that marked the independence between the North and the South of Vietnam in 1975 as the Northern army broke through the gate to defeat the Southern regime and the US Army. Nowadays, the Palace remains a public museum that welcomes visitors to learn about the war.

Interstitial Datum 

This thesis reimagines the underutilized front lawn of the Palace by proposing an underground public bathhouse integrated with a water cistern hidden under a 12-ft elevated roof. Located on a site with higher ground, the project argues the need for a new form of architecture that can be retained instead of draining the water down to lower grounds. With a tropical climate condition and high annual precipitation rate, the cistern attempts to hold up to 1 million cubic meters of water during heavy rain season; therefore, contributing to the flood prevention at lower ground regions throughout the city. Bathhouse program is integrated to draw public attention toward the cistern infrastructure, learning about rain and water through different stages and systems tucked below ground, while revitalizing the importance of contemplation and socializing between the body and mind.

Continuing from the experiment of Water X Tree X Cloud, the project operates as a forest with each program being a tree on its own. This entry point shows a dramatic change in the level of intimacy from the outside toward the inside by going down the staircase. The depth of space is expanded immediately while being inverted from the ground going down.

The plan of the bathhouse depicts the layout of each room in relation to one another. Each room functions as a living tree and is supported by columns to allow space at the cistern level below to store rainwater. The circulation space between each room provides a sense of flexibility and freedom for the public to move and discover the space on their own. Some major programs including, hot bath, cold bath, warm bath, saunas, etc…are embedded to allow visitors to experience different senses of water temperature and humidity, while becoming one with their own self by bathing.

A chunk section of this Cold bath shows how a typical room is formally laid and in proportion to the roof and the circulation space below while supported by columns. Not only does the column function as a structural member, it also acts as a system that filters and draws rainwater from the cistern up to the bathhouse.

This image shows the outside-inside relationship between a circulation space and a point of arrival, a shift from a darker place to a brighter space. Light wells become a critical element to bring in daylight as well as signifying a moment of spirituality and revelation during bathing.

A similar layout of the hot bath but from a circular shape in plan.

This 3rd diagram (left to right) represents a further detailed development from the early experiment, Water x Tree x Cloud using Hejduk’s discipline of creating forms as situated objects in relation to the sky above and the earth below, including an accessible inverted roof for rain harvesting, a warm bath, a greenhouse below that is filled with mist atomized from the water at the cistern level.

These series of diagrams depict a breakdown of each element intricately in relation to one another, while maintaining a simple form and relationship on the outside. From circulation, form, space, and structural systems are broken down as a set of individual parts that create a cohesive whole.

3D-printed chunk model of Warm bath
3D-printed chunk model of Warm bath

This view shows the formal relationship of the Warm bath (right) to appear as a simple, harmonious entity to other rooms at the Bathhouse level.

Inverted roof for rainwater catchment.
Inverted roof for rainwater catchment

The section again emphasizes the part-to-whole approach cutting through three main baths while showing a relationship to the circulation space in between. Punctures from the roof through level 1 are carefully located to allow enough daylight entering the cistern. (Image below)

Occupiable space is offset to allow for daylight casting on concrete walls and penetrating deeper. A circular ramp connects the bathhouse to the cistern below.

The section shows a spatial sequence from the entry point while presenting the project through a compositional relationship with the Palace, acting as a single living entity while still paying visual respect to the historic building.

Roof condition in relation to the Palace.
Roof condition in relation to the Palace.
Plan for the basement level that stores rainwater.
Plan for the basement level that stores rainwater.
A view of the cistern below expresses a dramatic, almost sublime feeling by allowing visitors to look through the rooms and the sky above.
A view of the cistern below expresses a dramatic, almost sublime feeling by allowing visitors to look through the rooms and the sky above.

Written by Troy Nguyen

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