As billings continue to decline in the US, the nation of Vietnam is quickly emerging as a hot spot for Western architecture firms seeking new work. About two dozen North American and European firms now have projects in the Southeast Asian country, including Foster + Partners, HOK, and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Some are even reportedly opening permanent offices there.
Vietnam is currently undergoing a remarkable economic transition, spurring much new development. The normalization of trade relations with the US in 2001 and relatively cheap labor costs–half that of manufacturing in China, according to the World Bank–has fueled massive foreign investment in the industrial sector. The newly wealthy communist government is redeveloping much of its now-expendable state-owned farmland, creating a construction boom.
Fortunately for Western architects, Vietnam is “starting to dip its toe into the pool with more Western buildings, because it wants to make a mark on the international scene,” said architect Anthony Montalto, a principal with Chicago-based Carlos Zapata Studio, in an interview with Architectural Record. “There is definitely an opportunity to try something fresh.”
Carlos Zapata Studio has many projects in Vietnam, and are working on a 7.5 million-square-foot development in Ho Chi Minh City with EE&K (now owned by Perkins Eastman) named Ma Lang Center.
Opportunities for innovation come with some drawbacks. Fees are relatively low, and corruption in awarding contracts is widespread.
Perhaps the busiest Western firm operating in Vietnam is SOM, which has six masterplanning projects in the country. It was recently awarded the commission for Green Tech City in Hanoi, which features two villages and a park that absorbs rain runoff. Masterplans are attractive for Western firms because they do not require teaming up with a local architect.
From Architectural Record, “Is Vietnam the New Frontier for Architects?” by C. J. Hughes, July 22, 2011.