Büro Ole Scheeren has launched designs for Empire City, a mixed-use development in Ho Chi Minh City that reflects the energy of the city’s economic growth and reconnects the urban environment to the tropics. While it is Büro Ole Scheeren’s first project in Vietnam, it is a continuation of the studio’s work in the Southeast Asian context, following large-scale landmark residential and mixed-use projects such as the Interlace in Singapore, Angkasa Raya in Kuala Lumpur and MahaNakon in Bangkok.
Ole Scheeren’s enthusiasm for the tropical energy of Southeast Asia is tangible in the designs for Empire City, which is animated by the emerging contemporary spirit of Ho Chi Minh City: ‘I think Vietnam and in particular Ho Chi Minh has really become one of these incredible energy centres for activity and investment, that not only exists on the scale of larger capital – there are a lot of construction sites across the city, but it’s ready to take the next leap on a grassroots level too. Small entrepreneurs are setting up businesses, the co-working culture and the shared economy is unfolding in this raw Asian city.’
Located on a peninsula, just across the Saigon river from the old centre in an area which has been dubbed ‘Future Pudong’, Empire City will become a pivotal focus of Ho Chi Minh. Scheeren describes the existing area of Pudong as ‘a working city, not much of a living city’, however Empire City will bring living – and living well – to the forefront, with its three mixed-use towers and a vast future plan for public space including a public waterfront and nature reserve.
‘The layering of different aspects within the project was to merge a residential community with a more urban and public community, so it becomes far more dimensional, bringing a broad spectrum of potential experiences and choices to the city,’ says Scheeren.
Empire 88 Tower – the tallest tower of the three that will reach 333m high across 88 floors – will house a hotel, short stay apartments, residences, as well as multiple public spaces, including a public observation deck. It is set to provide people with a rich eco-system of activities within just one building. At ground level, the layered ‘podium’ is a public space that flows into the other two towers across which non-standard typologies such as co-living and co-working have been embedded. Variations of floor plates, sizes and layouts within each typology tap into the broad variations of uses required within the area's dynamic economy.
The 'podium', which occupies the base of the three towers, is designed to reflect the cultivated terraces in the countryside of Vietnam
Empire City is an astute response to Vietnam’s next generation, reflecting current and future living habits through its design – which is intended to breathe organically with its community. ‘It’s like Bangkok in the 90s, when we were working on MahaNakhon, we explored similar topics there,’ says Scheeren, who sees Bangkok as a city that is a few paces ahead of Ho Chi Minh, on the brink of an urban and economic explosion. ‘I really think Vietnam is one of those places where you can strongly sense it has an exciting moment to come and its an opportunity to see a contemporary Asian and tropical city redefining itself.’
As well as the future of Ho Chi Minh, the development equally looks at the past, and the historic, contextual traits of the city, which was built on a forest. ‘We wanted to capture the spirit of the tropical city, where life indoors and outdoors plays an equally important role and the presence of nature is incredibly important and relevant to us as a whole, and how we can reconcile the tension between the dense built environment and nature, to which escape is simultaneous,’ says Scheeren.
Three quarters of the way up Empire Tower 88, the ‘Sky Forest’ is a publically accessible restaurant embedded into a huge water garden – designed to create a ‘natural spectacle’ inspired by the bucolic sites of Ha Long Bay and Trang An Grotto waterfalls. At the top of the tower is the ‘Cloud Space’, a flexible public event space.
Scheeren describes the 333 m tower as a ‘quest for the sky’ – ‘How can we connect the sky and the ground,’ he asks. ‘This is still one of the most beautiful possibilities of the skycscraper itself, which has been so commercialised and mistreated by architects and developers that it has lost the fantastic nature of its original naming. In a sense we wanted to bring back some of the lyrical beauty of how the skyscraper could be.’
The undulating façade features balconies for residents, while a more extreme cantilever is built into the ‘Sky Forest’ spaces, creating the effect of floating gardens above the city which reach out into the surroundings and connect people to views of the countryside beyond the city.
At the base of the building, the design of the ‘podium’ space echoes the cultivated rice fields of Vietnam, where the layering of ramps and stairways connect back to the streets and surrounding public realm. By creating a seamless, publicly accessible flow through the development, Scheeren hopes that Empire City will provide Ho Chi Minh with a new tool to reclaim public space, taking it from the commercial back to the residential, as well as driving the debate of how we want to live as cities grow denser.