Ho Chi Minh Community Design Project

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Project Info

The Ho Chi Minh Community Design Project started out as a UROP to understand urban issues and investigate the participatory community design process in a rapidly developing countries in Asia. Phú Xuân, a suburban district in Ho Chi Minh City, was chosen as a case study as it experiences one of the highest economic growth and rate of urbanization in the region, yet faces multifaceted urban issues such as a lack of amenities, pollution, need for proper waste management and housing improvement. Over the past 2 years, a multidisciplinary team from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Ho Chi Minh City University of Technology (HCMUT), and Van Lang University (VLU) was formed, comprising students from diverse disciplines – architecture, structural engineering, mechanical engineering, system engineering, environmental engineering, and information technology – to work together with the local community in Phú Xuân.

This project was set up as a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project to prototype and test the following:
(1) The collaborative design process between different academic disciplines
and across cultural boundaries (international level and inter-district level);
(2) The extent and acceptance of participatory design approach in Vietnam context;
(3) A design prototype in response to the social and environmental issues faced by the local community.

Understanding the Community
The team experimented with approaches of understanding and engaging the community, from organizing community workshops, conducting door-to-door surveys and interviews, collecting data such as the soundscape of streets, time-lapses of public spaces, photovoice: photo narratives by residents, and setting-up of photo booths to spark conversations and unveil social networks within the community.

Engaging and empowering the residents
An exhibition ‘Celebrating the Phu Xuan spirit’ was set up in a local school presenting our findings in an engaging and open-ended manner, allowing the public to see their own community in a whole new light, and most importantly, be inspired and empowered to act in bettering the very place they call home.

Interactions with and feedback gathered from the residents gave the team a deeper understanding of the following community issues: a lack of communal spaces, children’s play area and greenery, garbage disposal at vacant lands (which became a hygiene issue when they were flooded during monthly high tide and annual rainy seasons), and security issues as drug addicts occupied those vacant lands. These issues led the team to envision one of the vacant lands as a community park, where residents could have a breath of fresh air, and a community space where all walks of life to gather. Moreover, the community space could foster a greater sense of ownership to and responsibility for the neighbourhood, and serve as a symbol of their resilience of living with the floods.

Designing and building a community park together with residents and community leaders
Moving forward, the team set up a roadside stall to solicit locals’ ideas and input on the design. Interested locals joined the students in the design and construction of the park and the playground, in creating a space that was locally sensitive, one that truly tapped on the strengths, and met the needs of the people.

The playground structure centered around the traditional Southern Vietnamese “Monkey Bridge” was prototyped using local and recycled materials on a vacant land 50m away from the school. The site was also landscaped into a “Rain Garden” using indigenous plants, which not only added greenery and beautified the site, but also made it more resilient to flooding. It became a prototype for future transformations of the other vacant lands found there.

The project was awarded the Humanitarian Award in the SUTD Student Achievement Awards 2016 for its impact on the community in raising awareness of environmental issues and urban development.

Faculty/Students Involved

  • Prof Chong Keng Hua
  • Dr To Kien
  • Judy Zheng Jia

  • Ng Zi Kai
  • Wong Kai Qi Sharlene
  • Jezamine Chua
  • Tan Yen Lin
  • Nguyen Minh Chau
  • Lee Wei Ji Desmond
  • Tan Yen Ping Janice
  • Ng Jia Wen
  • Tan Wei Lin
  • Vo Le Hoang Long
  • Shanelle Chan Jun Hui
  • Chan Wei Ting Samantha
  • Clara Hannah Goh Mei Ling
  • Tan Yi Hao

Project Duration

November 2013 – May 2016

Funding Source

The project is supported by the Opportunity Lab and the SUTD-MIT International Design Centre.

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