Emerging Architecture Awards

Commended December 2004

The skyisbeautiful Architecture


Luong Son, Vietnam
In Vietnam, the normal education system is privately funded, so the poor have few possibilities, and many remain illiterate. Ecole Sauvage was set up as long ago as 1901 to help educate underprivileged children of the Nha Trang region in the centre of the country. In 2000, the charitable organization, working with the local authority, made an agreement with two young architects, Nguyen Chi Tam (who works for the Renzo Piano Building Workshop) and Charlotte Juillard (French and a bamboo enthusiast) to build a school in Luong Son village, about 12km from Nha Trang. The aim was to use locally available materials and community labour to make a building that even the poor could afford.
It caters for 200 to 300 (in shifts) and consists of three main classrooms, a common room and ancillary accommodation. The enclosed rooms are separated by small gardens, but tied together to the west by a long colonnaded veranda that runs the whole length of the building. It forms the bicycle shed, the playground for rainy times and the overflow area from the classrooms. Perhaps the most striking thing about the long semi-open space is that its structure is bamboo.
The architects (who have founded a partnership called Theskyisbeautiful) believe that bamboo, which grows abundantly in Vietnam, is a much neglected renewable natural resource, at present mainly used for temporary structures or decoration in buildings for the rich. In fact, it is extraordinarily strong and stiff for its weight, and deserves to be much more widely used in permanent construction. But to be so, bamboo stems have to be pre-treated by soaking them in mud for a month to dry them and remove the sugar that attracts insects, then exposed to an open flame to acquire a light scorching, then cleaned and polished.
Round the classrooms is a concrete frame with brick infill walls, which act as mechanical anchors in tropical gales, and to some extent both as thermal flywheel and sound insulation. The rest of the structure is of bamboo: poles 80 to 100mm in diameter are lashed together with rattan or connected by bolts to form roof trusses and the colonnade. As usual in this part of the country, roof coverings are galvanized corrugated steel. Thinner bamboo members are used to form ceilings and screens, so that convection drafts cool enclosed spaces. Bamboo components were prefabricated off-site, allowing the whole building to be erected in 10 months.
The jury was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the project, and its potential for replication. Members were inclined to apply the architects description of bamboo as a material that flexes but does not fracture to the school as a model for others.

Theskyisbeautiful Architecture
Project team
Nguyen Chi Tam and Charlotte Juillard