What is architecture? It’s a big question. Everyone has their own definition of what this word means to them. Some say it’s about shelter. Sure. But shelter alone does not constitute architecture. So what is it? For us, it is a blend of two very different concepts working together in synergy: the functional need for shelter and emotional connection. A building becomes architecture when it fulfils its functional tasks, but it also engages with us by giving us feelings. This is what architecture is at its core. Vietnamese architects a21 Studios have two tiny projects which define the essence of architecture at its core. They show us that structures don’t have to be large or complex to be deemed a work of architecture. On the contrary, they can be tiny projects that nevertheless fulfil their functional role and give us something more in the form of feeling. ‘Hai Chiec Thuyen’ (aka The Hut) and ‘Pagoda’ are two projects which display architecture in the most minimal (and perhaps purest) of forms.

a21 Studio are an architectural studio based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. They established themselves in 2009 as a small group of designers whose goal is to bring their ideas to life and influence their surroundings through architecture. Their ethos seems to be about minimal solutions for maximum impact, and there is a definite zen feeling about their work. In this article, we look at two of their smallest projects, both completed in 2015 and located in Vietnam.

Project 1: Hai Chic Tauyen (the Hut)

This tiny project is located by the river Cai (Nha Trang). Every year, the villagers who lived on its fertile plains were subjected to regular floods. For this reason, small boats became very popular.

Recently, however, a hydroelectric plant was built upstream, resulting in the disappearance of the floods. The boats, once an indispensable means, have now become redundant simple memories, often thrown away. With this, the tradition of weaving boats in Nha Trang has almost disappeared.

The architects wanted to create a small shelter for farmers to rest in and protect themselves from the heat and rain, but more importantly they wanted to also respond to the context and touch upon the memory of place. The outcome is in ‘The Hut’, an XS minimal shelter (6.5m2) formed by disused boats suspended on stilts. These act as both raised plinths and also become roofs for shade and protection against rain which farmers can rest under in their hammocks.

“We are tired of digging foundations, pouring concrete, walls …, the calculation of ventilation, lighting … We seek freedom through architecture”, say a21 Sudio… and they sure look like they have found it. Tiny, minimal, function and deeply profound. This is what a21 have achieved in their architecture.


The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
The Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
Concept sketch for the Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
Concept sketch for the Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
Model for the Hut [Source: a21 Studio]
Model for the Hut [Source: a21 Studio]


Project 2: Pagoda

In the architect’s words:

“In 588 BC, Siddhartha attained a fully enlightened being under the Bodhi tree and then taught the Buddhism to people. Many people have renounced the world and followed him. However, after several centuries flourishing, Buddhism has been on its decline. Currently, Buddhism is struggling to adapt to modern society.

As Buddhists, we are wondering whether it is too hard for renouncing conveniences and comforts in the modern life. Buddhist, nowadays, prefer living in magnificent temples and monumental and the dedications of people has exceeded the needs of ordains. They left everything behind to be monks and now, they are the most who depend on it. From this, would mindfulness be attained?

Thus, we make a pagoda, a place dedicated to the spirit, where users are not driven by the needs and comforts of life, as animals living among nature. And this space, after all, is just as the Bodhi tree where the Buddha was sitting in Nepal more than 2,600 years ago.”


Concept sketch for Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Concept sketch for Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Exploded axonometric for Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Exploded axonometric for Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]
Pagoda [Source: a21 Studio]