Construction is starting on the large lot behind my house. Since I have a ringside seat for all the action, I will post progress on the site weekly.
This week, construction equipment and materials dribbled in slowly each night. Since trucks can travel on inner city HCMC streets at night, deliveries by large trucks are made at night.
It is likely that the foundation construction contractor will start drilling de-watering wells to lower the ground water in the site area so that excavation can start later. They will also drive one or two piles and load them with large blocks of concrete for a period of time to test the load-bearing capacity of the pile given the depth to which they were able to drive the piles.
I have been thinking a lot lately about personal branding. Tom Peters, the author of the best-selling book "In Search of Excellence" (1982) also wrote a book called "The Brand You 50" (1999), stating " The white collar job as now configured is doomed. ...So what's the
trick? There's only one: DISTINCTION. Or as we call it ... turning yourself into a brand ... Brand You."
Internet techology has now given us a myriad of ways to build and maintain one's personal brand or image in the world, with web pages, blogs, video sites, podcasts, social sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and Twitter.
40 years ago in the late 1960's when I was an architecture student, I thought (as did many of us in those egalitarian days) I would succeed strictly on merit. Appearances would count for nothing. It didn't take too much time out of the univerity to figure out this was wrong. Appearances are a form of communicating merit and therefore are central to succeeding based on merit. In today's world, it is much easier to communicate and present merit, but it helps to be purposeful in building image.
Yesterday, on Earth Day in America, I wrote a message to one of my Vietnamese colleagues in Ho Chi Minh City recommending that she emulate Michelle Kaufmann, the foremost American architect and designer bringing green design to American homes and families. I want to share that message with you:
Have a productive Earth Day today!
you sent to me the link to the Smart House at the Museum of Science and
Industy in Chicago, I have been catching up online with the work of
Michelle Kaufmann, the architect. I told you that we had worked
together for a large firm in San Francisco, KMD
Architects. She had been working with Frank Gehry in Los Angeles when
my boss asked me to call her and send her an employment proposal to
come and work for us in San Francisco, and she did. But she was a very
energetic and ambitious young woman, so I knew we would not be able to
keep her for long. After two years with us, she formed her own firm
and has been extremely successful ever since. She also hired away from
us a young architect whom I had worked closely with to be the president of
I am sending these links to you because I think Michelle is a great
role model for you. I know I would have accomplished more in my life
if I had known of such role models when I was younger. So please pay
particular attention to Michelle's passions and what she has
accomplished with a lot of energy and an outgoing fearless
personality. I think that you have many of the qualities that Michelle
has, and that you can accomplish great things yourself in pursuing your
First of all, remember the concept of "branding". We usually think
of branding as applied to products. But branding is also very
important for highly-effective individuals. Everything that you do
creates your "brand" in the eyes of the people you work with and
encounter in life. So you need to reflect on yourself and understand
what your passions are and what you want to convey to others. Then you
need to act in everything that you do to build the brand -- that positive
Building your brand means paying careful attention to the design of
what you produce and how these things are presented. Look at
Michelle's blog for example: http://blog.michellekaufmann.com
She uses a consistent design and color scheme in everything that
she does. Notice that she writes very well and puts out ideas that can
help other people meet their goals, in this case of leading more
environmentally productive lives. Notice also that although her
education was in architecture, she brings together many related
disciplines to move towards her overall goal of "green living". She is
very good at landscape architecture, interior design, product design,
furniture design, and graphics design. She has also produced a series
of videos (very professionally done) that present innovative but small
doable ideas for green living. The videos are also available for subscription on YouTube.
On her company website, http://www.mkd-arc.com/homes/ she
uses the same graphic motif and images as used on her blog. Michelle
started her architecture firm because she wanted to buy an
environmentally sustainable house for her family, but could not find
what she was looking for. So she developed this idea to design a house
as a product that would be fabricated in a factory and then brought to
the site to be assembled. There have been other attempts to build
factory-built (or pre-fabricated houses), but none of them were as
beautiful and environmentally sustainable as her designs. She built one of her first prefabricated houses for Sunset Magazine, a widely-read
western-living magazine in California, which brought a lot of attention
in a very short time to Michelle and her new firm. Since then she has
designed several different house designs for prefabrication and many
have been constructed. She also designs custom homes using prefabicated
elements. The house shown on the following web page is one of my favorites, and notice what a pure
modernist design it is. Santa Barbara House
The use of technology is very important in extending your brand
awareness, and Michelle uses the available tools very effectivly. In
addition to her blog and the company website online, she also uses
YouTube and Twitter to constantly move her ideas out to interested
people and attract new contacts. Obviously, these tools are only
effective if you have something of value to say or present. It amazes
me how Michelle is able to communicate almost everyday several times a
day very interesting tips and ideas on her Twitter feed. I enjoy
keeping up with her ideas this way. I know that Michelle is an
exceptional person and has boundless energy and ability to easily
project ideas and her personality. The rest of us may be able to
accomplish a fraction of what she does, but that is what makes her such an effective role model for us.
My colleague, KTS Trà Giang introduced me to two beautiful cafés in Ho Chi Minh City this weekend. Architects in Vietnam are addressed as "KTS", an abbreciation for Kiến Trúc Sư, the Vietnamese words for architect. Cafés in Việt Nam are much larger and more comfortable versions of coffee houses in America.
The first was the Elip Café at 530/23 Đường Thống Nhất, Phường 16, Q. Gò Vấp, TPHCM. Elip is a Vietnamese adaption of the word ellipse, and the basic layout of the cafe is an ellipse, an oval where tables are laid out under a bamboo canopy with a oval pond in the middle open to the sky. The form is an innovative use of bamboo in a complex geometry.
The entry is set back from Thong Nhat Street by about 30 meters, so it is too easy to miss. At the entry, a ramp leads to the parking garage below while the pedestrian entry heads up stairs to the left.
The entry path is by stepping-stones across a pond with small fountains and beautiful plant life.
This is a modernist architecture that evolves from the use of one material: bamboo. This architecture is in line with the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron as well as Peter Zumthor, both firms which have been awarded the Pritzker Prize, with Zumthor's awarded just a few days ago. These architects study and mold one material into beautiful forms. In this case, it is the way bamboo has been structurally put together to compose complex forms.
The roofing material, however, was a very poor choice of red asphalt shingles, since this pliable material accentuates the unevenness of the bamboo structure.
We visited on one of the hottest days of the year (a record was set for HCMC at 36 C. this day), so we chose to sit in a "tearoom" upstairs with a zen feeling.
Since this was elevated, it caught the breezes through the bamboo and we remained cool.
There is an air-conditioned seating area available below the tearoom. The coffee and other drinks and ice cream selections were normal for this type of cafe (18,000 VND, a little over $1, for cà phê đá, iced coffee). As usual, I feel very fortunate to live in a land where coffee and culture, especially architecture, are revered and experienced daily.
That is not smoke in the photo above -- it is misting cooling water.
The other cafe is quite different but equally beautiful for its setting. Americans are very familiar with the small coffee shops attached to large bookstores such as Borders or Barnes & Noble. Similarly, this cafe is run by a large bookstore similar in size and selection to a Barnes & Noble, but occupies a full floor above the two floors of the Phuong Nam (PNA) Bookstore at 3 Đường Nguyễn Oanh in the Gò Vấp district between Đường Phám Văn Chí and Đường Quang Trung. This cafe is huge, with many tables in differing settings, as well as an outdoor terrace. Books are spread around in bookcases close to the tables for casual reading.
In this case, it's the graphic color scheme and consistent patterns that make the design. Since the seating is much more comfortable than most cafes, one lingers in this cafe for hours, reading books that one might drop down into the bookstore to buy later. Popular singers take the stage on Friday evenings for live performances.
The enclosing glass walls are modernist in crisp detailing.
And the landscaping is well coordinated with the architecture.
There were several large tables of students comparing notes on the Saturday lunchtime we were there, as well as lots of people with laptop computers taking advantage of the free wireless internet service. Although the prices were average for cafes of this type in HCMC, the comfortable setting and air-conditioning on a very hot day made the setting perfect for students on a budget.
The Gò Vấp district is beyond the airport from downtown, and foreigners are very few out here. But cafes such as this are well worth the trip. The #3 bus makes an almost straight line out towards these two cafes from District One downtown.
As much as I love modernist architecture in Vietnam, sometimes I come across an example that has been taken a little too far. This house is quiet quite different for Viet Nam:
It looks like a small office building, but it is in a residential district far from any commercial areas. This is located along Lương Định Của Street in the An Phú area of rural District 2 in Ho Chi Minh City.
Besides being relentlessly symetrical, the stone materials are different than most modernist Vietnamese houses. It displays none of the surface or structural articulation common to Vietnamese modernist houses, and therefore is minimalist like much of international modernist architecture.
This is an interesting experiment, but remains too mysterious at this time. It does not look lived in enough. It is neither a standard 4-meter wide "tube house" nor a villa. It is hard to figure out whether it is two units, and how to approach the house. I need to come back sometime in the daytime (this photo was taken at dusk on a Sunday) to see if the large entry door is open and how people approach this house (or office building if that is what it is, although it is often both in Việt Nam).