RMIT Vietnam NewsArchitecture as an agent of change in Vietnam

Architecture as an agent of change in Vietnam

Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 10:06
RMIT Melbourne PhD candidate Andrew Currie
The Unilever Homebase in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 7

RMIT Melbourne PhD candidate Andrew Currie is using his dissertation – and his architectural practice – to raise the standards of his industry in Vietnam.

Mr. Currie moved to Vietnam from Australia in 2003 and, shortly thereafter, established the architectural and interior design firm OUT-2 Design.

“The reason we set up the business here was to effect positive change,” Currie said.

A decade later, the Managing Director of OUT-2 Design went back to school to undertake a practice-based PhD at the RMIT University School of Architecture and Design. The unique format of the practice-based PhD allowed Currie to reflect on the body of work at OUT-2 Design.

“My research investigates the role of the architecture and design practice as a vehicle for effecting positive change in the emerging market context of Vietnam,” Currie said.

Currie explained that this research consists of examining three parts of his design practice: architectural projects, staff development and pro bono work.

“We want our architectural projects to be as environmentally and socially responsible as possible,” Currie said.

“For example, the Unilever Homebase in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 7 is the first commercial building designed and constructed in Vietnam to an international environmental standard.”

“The building has passive solar sun shading devices that decrease energy use by 30% and all of the building materials were low or non-toxic.

“We were told that we could not achieve it because of scarcity of materials, but in the end we did.”

Unilever Homebase won international awards, beating out other projects in Australia and Japan.

The second part of Currie’s research looks at staff development.

“Like everywhere else in the world, getting good staff is difficult,” Currie said.

As a result, his firm has made a strong commitment to professional development.

His research highlighted that 20-25% of staff time is spent on formalised professional or personal development.

“This has a beneficial outcome for projects, but we also see a need to help our staff deal with personal issues.”

The third component of his research looks at the firm’s charity work.

“In the business plan we said 10% of work is for charity,” Currie said.

“We’ve never actually monitored, but we like to take on two to four projects per year and get staff involved.”

The firm has provided pro-bono design for a kindergarten, raised money for charities, and opened a gallery to support creative people pursuing their passions.

Reflecting on his work so far, Currie said: “We have been successful at raising standards of safety, design and responsibility in Vietnam, and countering the argument that ‘it’s Vietnam so it doesn’t have to be as good’.”

Currie is about half way through his PhD and presented his preliminary work at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City this fall.