In Ho Chi Minh City, the recent economic development has stimulated the transformation of the cityscape. Contemporary models induced an alteration of urban typologies. Most notably, the vernacular city is being replaced by a rigorous grid. Public space is unequivocally considered by specialists as a space of flows, aestheticising, and/or commercial activity. While social life would naturally develop in nebulous network of tiny streets creating multifunctional, vibrant and attaching places, it is reduced and controlled in the modern one.
Invited to participate to the place-making festival : Playtime, we seized the chance to play with our city by making a temporary public space installation in an alleyway of the city’s central district. Inspired from the quotidian Ho Chi Minh city, where the perpetual improvement of streets relies more on people’s actions and ingenuity than on massive infrastructural mutations, our concept induced minimal design and physical changes to let spontaneous response happen. In fact, Pop-up square was conceived as a simple experiment to engage the largest audience possible in the conversion of our site into an area dedicated, for an afternoon, to leisure. Out of the ordinary scenes, we picked three elements to make the place.
First, a red duct tape was plastered on the floor to limit a square and protect it. Usually minimised, sacrificed for other priorities, public space here had its territory. Not a parking lot, announced the tape; and very quickly, a police officer watching over the project ordered a neighbour to move his car away.
Within the borders of the red lines, the public space was then furnished with hammocks. Global symbol of rest, they are also found along Vietnamese highways, where most coffeeshops offer hammocks areas for travellers to enjoy a nap. While the plastic chairs, a buoyant streets’ classic, are often associated with commercial activities, hammocks and their comfortable sight made a clear statement: this public space was for leisure, relaxing and enjoying the moment. The message was received by neighbours, passers-by and participants who came in and installed themselves while pursuing their discussions.
The ubiquitous plastic chairs were still present – but not their traditional function. They stood atop of each other in towers of various heights, like totems of this reconquered moment. And the infinite repetition of these structures linked this very local element back to a global conversation started with Brancusi.
As people gathered during the time of the installation, the space lived from their appropriations and uses. Finally, a dance performance by the Vietnamo-Belgian company t.r.a.n.s.i.t.s.c.a.p.e enriched the experience as they blurred and expanded the territory’s boundaries, further echoing to the daily life of Ho Chi Minh City streets.
With this installation, we emphasised the resourcefulness of ordinary Vietnamese public spaces and the subsequent capacity to do lively spaces with little design; a perspective we want to defend, as landscape architects, in the debate on place-making.
Landscape Designer: Landscape Jardins Asia
Project location: Alley 8A, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai street, Dao Kao ward, Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam
Design year: 2018
Year Built: 2018